Physicists get video abstracts

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The New Journal of Physics has recently launched video abstracts. Tim Smith explains why

More than ever, researchers interact only with the electronic version of a research journal (a situation underlined by the way in which electronic-usage data alone is increasingly used by libraries to justify journal subscriptions).

Building upon and (in part) in recognition of this trend, we are also seeing a growing demand within the physics community from scientists looking to exploit the potential of the online medium as authors. The use of (for example) high-density images, video (and audio) footage, animations and interactive 3-D renderings have now become increasingly commonplace (particularly for certain subject communities) as new and more sophisticated authoring tools emerge. In addition to adding genuine scientific value to an article (and thereby enhancing the overall user experience) the potential is now there for publishers to embrace online and social media streams to raise the visibility and profile of both scientific content and, importantly, authors themselves.

It is with this backdrop that February saw the open-access New Journal of Physics (co-owned by the Institute of Physics and German Physical Society) introduce video abstracts as a brand new archival content stream that will accompany articles in the journal. This investment is part of IOP Publishing’s ongoing commitment to develop and offer technological solutions to improve global scientific communication and aims to provide all authors (at no extra cost to the user) with the opportunity to go beyond the constraints of their written article to personally convey the importance of their work using novel means.

In line with the journal’s open-access model, video abstracts are free-to-view and geared around a fundamental journal objective, which is to make (frequently complex) physics research and concepts as accessible and available as possible worldwide. With a view to maximising community engagement, interaction and visibility, the functionality and usage terms of the videos also embrace the growing trend for content to be shared online through social media channels.

‘This is a first for a physics journal and another example of how New Journal of Physics is looking to push boundaries to provide new online services for our authors and readers’ said Eberhard Bodenschatz, editor-in-chief of the journal. ‘Authors can now convey their research in new and novel ways that will provide increased visibility for them and, we hope, an enriched user experience for our wide readership.’

Just over a month old at the time of writing, the true value of video abstracts to the physics community remains to be seen as author take-up and overall usage levels are revealed. The service is, however, already winning early plaudits from authors and viewers alike. ‘A great way to communicate our excitement and enthusiasm,’ noted one early-adopter, while another added that the video-abstract format makes the paper ‘more visible and accessible and is ideal for outreach’.

The 28 video abstracts published so far (with more in the pipeline) showcase an impressive variety of presentational styles. What’s more, with more than 6000 views (and a fair amount of Twitter activity) within the first two weeks there are some indications that perhaps their time has come.

Tim Smith is senior publisher of New Journal of Physics

Some selected quotations about the new feature from some of the first authors, together with links to their video abstracts:

'Video abstracts enable the excitement of the discovery to be conveyed using audio and visual tools and also provide a personal touch for authors to share their results with readers.'
Barry Sanders, University of Calgary, Canada

'By featuring the people behind the science, video abstracts have the potential to convey inspiration and enthusiasm, and thereby the significance of scientific results, beyond the concise text of articles.'
Achim Kempf, Waterloo University, Canada

'We are very excited to have the opportunity to feature a video abstract alongside our NJP article. Embracing the possibilities of online media in this way allows us to present our work as we see it, and help focus interested readers on what we believe the key points to be. We hope that being able to put faces to names, and visualise some of the research in action, will add a human touch and so help the scientific community to grow closer.'
Neil Wilson, University of Warwick, UK

'Video abstracts convey the core of a paper quickly and directly by combining authors' commentary with animations. This format makes the paper more visible and accessible to the scientific community and is also ideal for outreach—which increases the value of the publication.'
Mark Fromhold, University of Nottingham, UK

'Video abstracts allow the presenter to get across the key message of their article in an open and accessible way. A visually striking abstract, as well as being fun to make, can really make an article stand out from the crowd.'
Alex Chin, Universität Ulm, Germany