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Funding Innovation

Is Research Going Mobile?

Jay Katzen, Elsevier | Nov 01, 2009

One of our primary goals as a publisher and information solutions provider is to enable advancement in research. Doing that effectively requires that we not only understand and anticipate researchers’ fundamental needs and behaviors, but that we find innovativeways to improve theirworkflows.

Keeping in mind that innovation happens over time and all of the time, we’ve set up an innovation program that encourages a continuous cycle of idea generation, experimentation, assessment and implementation. One of the first proposals to emerge from this program was an initiative to investigate the potential impact of mobile devices in the scientific research workflow and seek ways they could be combined with research content to improve the effectiveness and productivity of research.

Researchers are using mobile devices for scientific research

As part of this initiative, in July 2009, we conducted a user study to assess the current use of scientific information on mobile devices and identify potential areas of opportunity for our existing online solutions — primarily ScienceDirect and Scopus. The subsequent report summarized the responses of 128 scientists active in a broad range of research areas, with a larger representation from Life Sciences (51%), Health Sciences (20%) and Physical Sciences (6%).

Significantly, the findings reveal that researchers are using their mobile devices for scientific research purposes, specifically for reading (50%), searching for facts (43%), searching for background/introductory information (30%) and keeping track of research data (33%). Furthermore the context of use is pervasive: Mobile devices are being employed in the home and in the lab as well as while in the field, commuting and traveling.

The user study results indicate that researchers are already using their mobile devices as part of their work and there are clear opportunities in this area. Specifically, the high importance of reading on these devices means that information will need to be tailored to reading on small screens. The fact that mobile devices are being used in all contexts shows us that we will need to identify a clear balance between information that needs a wi-fi or Internet connection and information that needs to be available offline.

Researchers want mobile access to fundamental information

When asked to rate the usefulness of having certain types of scientific content on mobile devices, an overwhelming 87% rated abstracts databases with fulltext links as “useful” or “definitely useful.” Fulltext articles (76.5%), book chapters (64.8%), RSS/alerts (71%) and factual scientific information (70%) were also considered “useful” or “definitely useful.” This is encouraging because it shows that information fundamental to researchers is highly in demand on mobile devices.

When asked to explain why certain content types on mobile devices would be useful to them, researchers explained in practical terms why, how and where they would use mobile devices:

  • “Being able to access articles without carrying around a stack of papers is extremely useful.”
  • “You can read the most up-to-date paper in your field that has just come out.”
  • “As I amnot always atmy computer, itmakes life a lot easier. No need to carry piles of paper with you everywhere when writing.”

From all of these findings, we can deduce that scientific information is being read and used in different places and at different stages of the research process. Making scientific information available for use on mobile devices at times most suitable to researchers’ workflows will be key to improving their productivity.

So what’s next?

The insights we have collected so far have directed us towards exploring three separate work streams:

  • Mobile Websites: First, we are looking at how mobile websites allow scientists to access abstracts and citations, fulltext articles and book chapters through embedded browsers on their mobile devices.
  • Mobile Applications: Second, we are considering how we can develop mobile applications for abstracts and citations, and fulltext journal and book content that are specifically tailored to fit scientists’ needs along the research workflow.
  • Electronic Readers: Third, we are investigating how we can make additional content more readily available for electronic reading devices.