Product focus: information providers cater for research on the move

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With the growth in mobile devices has come a growth in mobile information products. We find out about some of the latest developments and the thinking behind them

Ron Burns, vice president of global software services, EBSCO Information Services

EBSCO’s latest mobile initiative, which we launched in 2012 and called Mobile 2.0, aims to promote usage growth and a better experience for mobile users ‘on the fly’. The plan was simple: one code base that could easily keep up with new platform features and the software development process. This plan was based on the notion that, if mobile is where the users are, then that is where the services have to be. The explosive growth of smartphones cannot be denied; iOS and Android are the platforms of choice and the changes in technology and design are occurring more and more rapidly. Today every database on the EBSCOhost platform is available via mobile devices.  

Initially, we invested money into individual apps but, although there are some products that still have their own apps, as technology developed we decided to invest more in our mobile website. A responsive design approach (websites that have been tuned to disclose and stack user interface and content elements progressively, depending on the computer or device screen size) enables a similar user experience across a variety of devices. 

Components are touch-optimised for iPad users. The sites auto-detect mobile users and present the search interface in an intuitive way crafted from user testing. Individual libraries can brand their EBSCOhost user interfaces, and that branding is maintained in the mobile experience. Using APIs (with JSON) allows libraries to build their own custom mobile apps.

Ron Burns 

In the academic space, there is an audience of diverse user types, including librarians, faculty, new graduate researchers and first-year students. There is a need to understand their different backgrounds, skills, and experiences, and also understand what they have in common. Any design has to achieve a balance – designing for the variety of users without alienating any of them. 

There are also certain resources where the offline experience is an essential element. We have individual apps for the point-of-care clinical decision support tool DynaMed and the nursing point-of-care tool Nursing Reference Center. Our future plans include continued development with a responsive design approach and evaluation of new features and devices. We are also planning a specific app that takes e-book functionality and offline needs into account. 

As library customers get new and better experiences, the message is sent to end-users that the library provides a reliable service that can be used anywhere and at any time. That, in turn, fosters more usage and a more positive impression of the library.  

Will Russell, innovation and technology manager, Royal Society of Chemistry

There are many reasons for providing resources on mobile devices. Obviously more people are using mobile devices now, and to the customer apps offer a great opportunity to take the science with them. Rather than thinking about providing resources to mobile, we see it more as a recognition that there are a variety of different devices (different screen sizes, different platforms and operating systems, different interfaces such as touch) that people now use to interact with our content. 

Our approach is a mixture of mobile-optimised website and apps. We are looking to improve the mobile optimisations across our entire web presence as well as creating applications where there is benefit in doing so. 

The RSC Mobile app allows you can search our entire online journal and e-book collections and, if you have access, download the content for reading on your mobile device. You can also select the journals you are most interested in to have a direct feed of the latest articles. This product for researchers gives a slightly different experience from that of the mobile website in that you can download abstracts into the app, with the opportunity to download the full text later. If it were a case of recreating the mobile website and calling it an app that wouldn’t really make sense.  

The app was developed in a hybrid way where some of the content (content such as search where you need a connection) is delivered via the web in a wrapper. This enabled us to redevelop the app for Android quickly, without having to rewrite from scratch. 

Our NPU Alerts app was different in that it presented to the reader the visual structures for the natural products as opposed to just their name. NPU is interesting as it considers the different scenario on the mobile device, with the user able to just scroll through graphics of the latest structures. 

Our first app aimed at a much younger audience has also just been released on iPad and Android. This is Elements of Nutrition and you can use the mobile device’s altimeter to move a shopping card back and forth to collect goods. 

Traffic from mobile devices to our content has definitely grown since last year, although we still have work to do in order to optimise our content fully for mobile. The usage of the mobile website is still greater than that of the mobile app and this is probably due to the need to install something with the app. Both will be further developed.  

Growth in mobile use is helped by the reduced cost of mobile devices and the cost of access, as well as the many thousands of useful applications in the space. We have to think of all digital products now as being ‘multi-device’ – they have to work on PC screens with very varied sizes, tablets, smartphones and whatever comes next with the new interfaces.  

It’s more than just a screen-size opportunity, it’s the new interfaces such as ‘geo’ and ‘touch’. It’s also more than just design. How do the needs of a scientist change in different scenarios? How can we provide the best experience for the scientist?  

We’re keen to work with our community to try things quickly to see what they find most useful and build on that. We may look at building an app that utilises speech next. 

Some of the challenges facing mobile tools within research are authentication in the mobile world, and the ability for the researcher to utilise several devices, enjoying an experience that passes between them seamlessly. 

As technologies such as HTML5 advance, the boundaries between apps and sites will close. 

More mobile devices will be used by researchers to put back information into the system, publishing data as it happens as opposed to primarily researching information. 

Mobile has changed the digital world; now there isn’t really an online and offline, the chemist anywhere can be connected to data, the community, their colleagues, and funders via a pocket-sized device.  

The digital world is becoming augmented with the real world. The thing about ‘mobiles’ is that they are social, built to connect people and I’m sure that connecting people around research information will become standard.

Martha Sedgwick, executive director, online products, SAGE

Since 2011, SAGE’s journal collection has been available in a mobile-optimised format. Readers visiting one of 700+ SAGE journals using their iPhones, Androids or other smartphones are redirected to the mobile version. Subscribers can view content in a format designed for the smaller screen size and functionality of their mobile device. This year we launched a mobile-optimised site for SAGE Knowledge, supporting 2,500 books and reference works. 

We are also undertaking projects to monitor changing needs in regards to mobile; this has included testing with academics and students on our existing mobile sites, as well as survey and focus groups with researchers in several disciplines on mobile use. As result of this, this year we launched SAGE Mobile Study: access to mobile revision sites via a QR code for on-the-go learning. Recently used with SAGE’s leading statistics textbook, Andy Field’s ‘Discovering Statistics Using SPSS’, Mobile Study is one of the first mobile revision tools to incorporate QR codes, and is a significant step for SAGE in supporting the interactive student learning experience on a mobile device. The mobile learning tool will be rolled out across a number of SAGE higher education and college market textbook titles by end Q1 2014. 

We have found that the way researchers access material, and the format in which they access it, is dependent on the type of reading they wish to do. Researchers don’t tend to use their mobile devices for ‘deep reading’ but instead, our focus groups have shown us that they use them for initial searches for snippets they can refer back to at a later date.  

The primary use case for mobile activity on our platforms is search-locate- share- save. We have also found that the best mobile site features keep users up-to-date, for example with journals’ tables of contents. People want to locate the information they need quickly, keep up to date, and then archive this for later reading. Users from mobile sites are more likely to land on our journal platform at the article level following a free web search than users accessing from non-mobile devices. Our journal platform supports this type of reading, providing researchers with a mobile-optimised interface for researchers to locate the material that they want, and then create favourite lists and saved citations to refer back to when they have access to tablets or laptops. 

SAGE’s Mobile Study also works in this format, enabling students to access key textbook extracts and additional study resources, links through to lecturer resources and additional summary material for students to engage with. Both support the level and type of ‘on-the-go’ reading required by students or researchers, enhancing the interactive learning experience and supporting the ‘deeper reading’ that they prefer to do when tablets and laptops are available. 

Overall, we see usage from mobile devices to our online products growing and, where we do make a mobile-optimised site available, this jumps further as our content becomes more accessible in that format. Our goal is to provide a great web-based user experience for mobile access to our products, and we will be rolling this out across our other sites over the next year. This has been a priority over large-scale mobile app investment as a result of the research we have undertaken.  

In addition to this we continue to evaluate the opportunities offered by app development, working closely with our society and partners to understand and respond to what users in their fields require.  

We are at an exciting point in the development for both the higher education, college and library markets, as technology is opening up opportunities and access for teaching, learning and scholarship.

Patricia Cleary, eProduct manager, Springer

Mobile is becoming an important way researchers use to stay current, as quick reference and for a user-friendly extended reading experience, especially on tablets. Mobile is all about where our users are, and about their ability to interact with our content at a time that is right for them.  

We see growth in mobile usage in the research community, and think this trend will continue as mobile technology improves and data connection speeds/bandwidth increase. Currently we receive approximately three per cent of visits from mobile devices, and we see this usage increasing over time. 

Springer’s strategy is that our content should be available to all online users, no matter where they are or what device they are using to access the internet. We provide our users with mobile-optimised versions of our sites (such as SpringerLink and SpringerProtocols). We also provide native apps, when appropriate, for iOS and Android, for major journals and societies, and utilities or companion apps for some books. We recently re-designed our SpringerLink app for iOS, and launched a version for Android phones and tablets. We think users will be very happy with the upgrades and improved functionality. It’s just a matter of time before all our sites are mobile and tablet ready.  

Mobile technology is changing rapidly, so it’s essential to stay flexible, watch the market, and make adjustments to our mobile strategy when needed. Mobile technology improvements, and increasing data connection speeds and bandwidth, mean more tools will be available for researchers to use and adapt to their needs. The ability to provide anytime, anywhere access to information, plus new ways to present and organise content, indicates an emerging revolution in scholarly communication that will continue to evolve and enhance research in ways that may surprise us.  

Jeff Lang, product manager, American Chemical Society  

Our ACS Mobile app lets you read, flag, and share abstracts from the most recently published articles from your selected ACS journals in a single, customisable feed. You can also temporarily store abstracts and full-text of articles (access required) for offline reading.  

ACS Mobile’s primary focus is on current awareness. We didn’t try to solve the issues of reading research papers on a mobile phone. Instead, we built an app that pushes the newest articles to you and lets you evaluate them quickly. By browsing the abstracts and reviewing abstract images, you can decide which articles need your full attention later. 

We also have an ACS ChemWorx mobile application, which lets you access your ACS ChemWorx annotated articles from anywhere. ACS ActiveView PDF is a fully composed full-text format that allows you to annotate articles and sync them to your ACS ChemWorx Library. Once the articles are in your library, you can open your annotated version on your mobile device.  

In addition, we have the JACS Image Challenge, which lets you test your knowledge of information featured in articles published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. We also have C&EN Mobile, where you can read issues of Chemical & Engineering News on your mobile device, with free access for ACS members. 

We provide these resources on mobile devices to make it easier for researchers to stay on top of the latest research and news, as well as enabling them to make the most of their time. We’ve seen that a significant percentage of our users are utilising mobile devices, and it was a logical next step to meet their needs. 

With more users starting to initiate searches on their mobile devices, they are helping to drive more non-mobile traffic to our site as well. 

The prevalence of mobile devices as personal devices suggests that mobile will continue to gain ground as a tool for both data gathering and consumption. Tablets are natural devices for reading and interacting with research results, while phones are ideal for the times when you need quick information. The sensors available on mobile devices make them well suited to becoming an integral part of primary research and experimentation.  

In future developments we are picking up where ACS Mobile left off, and addressing issues around patron access while outside of the institutional network. We are also exploring new ways to enhance the experience of reading, annotating and organising research articles on mobile.