I want to be completely honest with you about ticTOCs
Posted by Roddy MacLeod on January 27, 2009
Nowadays, online (and other) marketing often seems to be little more than a relentless stream of positive statements about whatever it is that’s being promoted at the time. It’s always good news – seems to be the message from most marketeers.
In the case of the launch of ticTOCs, the Journal Tables of Contents Service, we’ve received a considerable amount of feedback. There has been a lot of praise in the press. We’ve also had a handful of more qualified responses.
I’d like to look at some of the various responses below.
Firstly, the praise. This has come from a host of bloggers in different parts of the world. Already, about 90 bloggers have posted about it’s benefits for researchers.
“In a word, wow!” Gary Price (ResourceShelf) :
“You may find that this is the answer you have been looking for when it comes to staying current with newly published research.” Science at UCD Library
“What I really liked about TicTOCs was that it is very easy to use, it has a nice interface, and you can set up RSS feeds.” ” …am often in awe of those clever people at JISC, so to paraphrase a well known Australian TV commercial for margarine: “Good on ya JISC – you aught to be congratulated”. “ Bibliothekia
“ticTOCs is impressive…This is terrific.” Internet News
“Most excellent!” SLA Military Libraries Blog
“I really like the TOC service ticTOCs. It makes it very easy to start following TOC:s from scholarly journals. …I also find the feeds structure rather consistent while sometimes in database TOC alerts I have got feeds where each item is really just a link to a new TOC at the publicher’s site. “ Nordlib 2.0
“…this is a terrific current awareness service…What an incredible time saver this service is. Finding the RSS feeds for even a handful of journals can be time consuming, finding them for over 11,000 journals, wow! Thank you to consortium that put this together.” PAFA.NET
Now, it’s always very encouraging to get feedback such as those comments above, and those are only a selection of some of the nice things that have been said about ticTOCs. It can also, actually, be very helpful, for a service’s development, to get more qualified responses, so, now for some of the one’s we’ve received.
The University of Auckland Library wrote “[ticTOCs] perhaps oversells its strengths. 11,000 journals is an impressive total, but there are still some important journals not on the list.” “…the subject lists are clumsy and poorly organised. For example the Sociology subject currently has 279 titles with no more specific subjects.” and finally “Those reservations aside, it’s a very useful service, and coming from JISC has a good academic focus.”
Those are all valid points. Since it’s launch, we’ve added several hundred more journal TOCs to ticTOCs, and the total, as of today, is 11,904 from 431 publishers. This represents more than half of the scholarly journals being published, and nearly all of the most important publishers’ content is included in ticTOCs. However, there are still many journals which are not included in ticTOCs.
We are dependent on the journal publishers in this respect. If a journal publisher includes RSS feeds for their journal TOCs, then we can almost certainly include them in ticTOCs. As yet, not all publishers, including many smaller publishers, do so. But the figure is growing all the time.
It must be remembered that ticTOCs is a project funded by JISC. Part of that project has been to develop a TOC service using RSS feeds. Another important part of the project is to encourage publishers to produce not only TOC RSS feeds, but feeds of good quality metadata. To that end, recommendations for publishers are currently being drafted. These recommendations will potentially benefit everyone. Lisa Rogers explains further, in her article in FUMSI. ticTOCs can only display information if it’s supplied as part of the publishers’ TOC RSS feeds, which is why some journals TOCs don’t feature abstracts. Also, because the feeds are sometimes not very standardised, we have to ‘normalise’ them so that they appear better within the ticTOCs interface. C’mon publishers – get your act together!
The subject categories for journals in ticTOCs are supplied to us by Ulrich’s Periodicals Directory. Ulrich’s is the premier periodicals reference source and is aligned with Serials Solutions in the ProQuest family. ProQuest is a partner in the ticTOCs project. It’s fair to say that no subject classification scheme will suit everyone. There are always issues concerning the level of granularity. However, being able to import subject categories from Ulrich’s has been helpful and has certainly saved us time, and it would not have been possible for us to manually classify 11,000+ journals.
On the same theme, Knowbodies wrote: “…an authority list of subjects would be a great improvement.” We can’t supply this, as the headings belong to Ulrich’s.
I should point out that some of the journal TOCs that have been added recently to ticTOCs don’t yet have subject headings. We’re working on this.
In another post, Washington University Libraries wrote that. “ It [ticTOCs] requires a lot less effort than setting up an RSS reader and finding appropriate feeds—though of course with less flexibility.” This is definitely true. If you want the flexibility that a feed reader such as Bloglines or Google Reader offers, then you’ll need to export your feeds to that feed reader. It has not been the objective of ticTOCs to develop the same functionality as these readers (which have much more funding/support than we do), but instead to make it easy to read (and export) journal TOCs in a user-friendly environment.
Science Library Pad wrote that ticTOCs was a bit of a missed opportunity, and assumed that the service would do three things: “keyword search against article titles; email alerts; provide OpenURLs and COINS for your link resolver and browser tools.”
Well, we’re currently working on the first two things. Search across all content is something that may be introduced in the not too distant future, and the same goes for email alerts, which would make the service much better. Open URL COinS could come later.
Bibliographic Wilderness wrote: “If only they had an API, then I could actually do something with it. And a contact email address somewhere on the web page so I could ask them about that wouldn’t hurt. They seem to be anonymous.” Hmm – I’ve never been accused of being anonymous before . This blog has contact details, and there’s details of the consortium that developed ticTOCs on the main website. We thought that that was enough, but maybe it wasn’t. As for the API – yes, we’ve been asked this several times, and the answer is that it is currently being written and should be available very soon.
Superpatron wrote: “I haven’t used it enough to know if there’s any kind of intelligent proxy based server integration for those who are off site.” No, there isn’t. This is out of scope of the present ticTOCs project. However, as Terry Bucknell pointed out in response to Superpatron’s post: If your library uses EZproxy then they can update their EZproxy config file so that you can access ticTOCs via EZproxy. Full-text links from ticTOCs to publishers’ sites will then give you access to full-text (if your library has subscriber access and has configured EZproxy to work with that site too).
The final criticism I read from a couple of bloggers concerned the time it has taken ticTOCs to develop the service (20 months). I couldn’t agree more, but I’d point out that these things nearly always take longer than you at first think. In fact, it’s been exactly 5 years since the idea of ticTOCs was first mooted! It takes a lot of time to build interest, support and partnerships, and then apply for funding from the appropriate funding stream. And then you get down to the actual development.
Keep the blog posts and comments coming, and I’ll try to answer any further questions or issues.
ticTOCs Management Support