Having recently got up close and personal with thousands of ejournal URLs, here are seven suggestions for those who are considering launching an independent open ejournal in the arts and humanities.
1. Register your own domain name. Try to make it human-readable and meaningful — e.g.: http://www.fabric-artists.org rather than using initials or shortened forms such as http://www.f-art.com. Pay for the domain and all hosted server costs up-front, for at least ten years, with a reliable commercial web hosting provider. This should not cost you more than about £600. Expensive, but it means that the university IT techies can’t capriciously juggle the root URL and thus break all your inbound links. Store all parts of the journal at your domain, calling no core content in from off-site, or from “slightly-different” URLs.
Problems solved: a) countless dead “404” links in ejournals list and directories just a few years old, and a circa 80% attrition rate on those more than five years old; b) a niche academic search-engine indexes your home page URL, but doesn’t also index the articles because you’ve stored them at a different URL.
2. Consider using the URL and file name as a carrier for some basic metadata, including clearly indicating if the content is free or pay. For instance…
Where preindustrial_water_mills are the first three words of the article title.
Without even accessing the document, a human can now glance at the URL in search results and read off:
Journal name (Technology History)
Issue number (Number 4)
It’s from a journal
It’s free full-text
The year published (2009)
The author surname (Adams)
The first three words of the article title (“preindustrial water mills“)
As you can see, that’s much more useful than having something impenetrable such as: http://www.hupt.stetford.edu/caij/admin/contentimages/38-02-106_h894.html and far better than having a huge database-driven scripted URL. You’ll exclude common words such as ‘the’ from the article title, obviously.
Problems solved: a) a useful range of basic metadata is not automatically displayed alongside a link to the journal article, other than the title (if you’re lucky) and an often-misleading text snippet; b) users accessing via a standard public search-engine have to download and manually open your article file to find out simple things like when it was published and if it’s really free full-text.
3. Don’t hang admin pages directly off the main URL. Put them in their own folder, e.g.: http://www.full-journal-name.org/editorial-files/our_editorial_board.html
Problem solved: Indexing the main domain also brings in all sorts of administrative fluff, old conference flyers, etc
4. Publish in HTML, as well as in PDF.
Problem solved: PDF is print-oriented (so consider linking each issue to a POD book publisher such as Lulu), but with HTML people can do more interesting things with (like browser addons that auto-detect and auto-link citations on a page)
5. Make sure all your articles contain basic information like: the journal title, issue number, and ideally your home-page URL in clickable form. Put this in the body text of the article. Also make sure your PDF file properties are all filled out correctly, as are your HTML headers. It’s just basic marketing really, but also useful for those who would organise knowledge.
Problem solved: A downloaded article from an open access ejournal very often has no embedded data giving the full journal title and issue number. Future generations won’t thank a researcher for telling them, “um yeah, but I once had that stuff via my personal copy of Zotero”.
6. Zero tolerance for broken URLs and 404 errors. Never ever let your IT techies or web designers change your directory structure once it’s set. If they really have to for some world-shattering technical reason, then make sure you force them to set up durable (five-year minimum) working redirects for every article, or use some server magic to make the new structure look like the old structure to the outside world.
Problems solved: a) too many dead “404” links in ejournals directories just a few years old; b) blogs, discussion forums have many broken direct links to journal articles they’re discussing; c) there are even sometimes broken links on the journal website itself(!) caused by directory-juggling.
7. Publicise. There’s nothing more disheartening than doing a Google search for link:www.your-established-ejournal.org — and finding that the only people who link to it are your university and a lone blog post from 2006. Being a journal on an obscure topic doesn’t mean you should be invisible. Google will bury you if you don’t have any inbound links, and (I would imagine) your authors may drift away if no-one links to or reads their articles. There’s also a whole planet out there, and the next expert in hyperkinetic light-art might be a kid sitting in a bush college in Uganda. She needs to find your excellent new article giving an overview of hyperkinetic light-art.