Welcome to the New, New Digital World

Nobel laureate Niels Bohr putatively wrote that prediction is difficult, especially when it concerns the future. This aphorism applies to AAPG in many ways, but especially to our digital assets.

The continuous evolution of the digital world has made publishing and delivering scientific information an ongoing challenge for professional associations like ours. AAPG’s digital information is its most valuable intellectual property. It embodies the scientific learnings that are the core of our value – and we sorely need to update its delivery to members. As a consequence, our Executive Committee has spent substantial time discussing this issue this year. It has become apparent that no one has a clear idea of where this field of digital publications is headed; nobody knows how to develop a sustainable policy for delivering scientific information. Several competing models exist for both commercial and open access. For example, we could partner with commercial entities and let our digital scientific information be delivered though a third-party. Alternatively, we could make all of our digits open access, available to the public.

This issue is important to us personally because all three of us joined the AAPG during the 1970s and 1980s because of the science that it provided to help us in our daily work. Later, our interest in generating the science drove us to become extensively involved because we independently recognized that AAPG is at its very best when it disseminates information about the science of petroleum geology. Prior to the digital world, AAPG (simply) delivered hard-copy publications on a monthly basis. By contrast, these days, almost all professional societies have moved toward digital delivery of all information. For our Association to remain vital scientifically, we must continue to deliver the best scientific information, and do it as quickly and seamlessly as possible for our members.

The question is, how do we best accomplish a unified digital future? AAPG currently delivers its digital information to members through website download via PDF files, HTML, GIS shape files and geodatabases (vectorized and attributed with data), GIS georeferenced raster images, and GIS ArcReader (freeware format) from seven offerings: AAPG BULLETIN (and other journals), some Special Publications, Search and Discovery, EXPLORER, website (including some divisions), GIS-UDRIL (subscription), and GIS Open-File. Meanwhile, some information is still delivered through hard copy (BULLETIN, EXPLORER, and most Special Publications). These diverse formats reflect AAPG’s response over the last two decades to the evolution of digital publishing. The current mix is not ideal. But making changes is challenging because the information is inter-related, exists in different formats, and the technology for search and delivery continues to evolve rapidly. Today’s best digital solutions may be expensive. And there is always the risk of premature obsolescence.

We are now reconsidering how to best achieve this unified digital future. Our first assumption, as we’ve mentioned, is that delivering our scientific information is one of the most important services that we offer members. The second assumption is that we have not been keeping up with how many of our members are using the information.

What changes have we begun to implement this year?

♦ We are expediting access to the state of the art science in our Association through online publication ahead of print for accepted BULLETIN papers. This will greatly shorten the time between acceptance and a citable paper. A similar procedure will soon be put in place for book chapters. Several of our peer societies have already moved to this model, and we must follow suit.

♦ Thorough and constructive reviews are essential for satisfied authors and readers. With a large pool of past and present associate editors who can contribute their experience to this effort, the BULLETIN and the Book series can provide exceptional value for contributors. Steve Laubach summarizes some of these initiatives in a related article in this EXPLORER.

♦ We are in the initial stages of improving the search capabilities for Datapages, Search and Discovery, and the website. This is an essential step towards streamlining access to our science for members.

♦ A redesign of the website for improved usability is under way. We are bursting at our figurative digital seams. As our content collection grows, it needs to be restructured so that it can be more easily searched. These changes will make popular features like the videos for 100th Anniversary for Discovery Thinking and GeoLegends’ interviews more easily found. These changes will be coordinated with revisions of Search and Discovery, which is currently attracting 500 new articles per year.

♦ Finally, an upcoming change is integrating GIS into all aspects of our deliverables. There are two aspects of this integration. First, we need to make Datapages content searchable in a map context, which is how many of us work. Second, the GIS Committee will seek to publish new documents that are specifically designed for GIS delivery. The GIS Committee already has started delivering some of these new digital GIS products, available on GIS-Open-File; Datapages is also delivering new GIS products, available on GIS-UDRIL and Open-File. We hope to encourage more publications and products of this type and want to develop a useful platform to deliver them.

In summary, as the digital world continues to morph, so will the ways that we access it. The bottom line is that AAPG members should always receive the information they need to practice petroleum geology, whether those data are digital or otherwise. We write this column as a preview to the Annual Convention, and we invite members to speak with us and to attend committee meetings (GIS) or other gatherings, because prediction is a challenge and we value your input. Enjoy the convention – we predict that you will have a great time!

Editor's Note: My co-authors for this month’s column are Steve Laubach, Elected Editor of the AAPG, and AAPG President-Elect Ted Beaumont.

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