Open Journal Systems is a free and open source software package for journal publishing. It’s probably the most widely-deployed platform for publishing open access journals; at least 2,000 journals use OJS. As such, it’s critical infrastructure for the OA movement: authors’, editors’, referees’, publishers’, and readers’ impression of OJS has a big impact on their impression of OA.
I haven’t used OJS as an author, editor, referee, publisher, nor as a sysadmin, but I have used it as a reader. It’s generally very usable, although there are a few areas, mostly related to current awareness, where some simple tweaks to the defaults would make things easier.
- Make subscribing easier and more obvious. When you visit an OJS using a standard theme, there’s no big button that says “subscribe” or a similar term. Instead, there are two options that lead down that path: “Register” and “For Readers”.
The “For Readers” page, by default, directs readers to register to receive the table of contents of new issues via email. The “Register” page, by default, requires you to create a username and password, fill out a captcha, and give your full name in addition to your email address. It also asks, optionally, for your gender, mailing address, and other information. That’s a lot of effort just to get an email when new issues are released.
There’s a reason: OJS uses the same page to register authors and reviewers — situations where more information than just an email address is required. There may be a bit of wishful thinking here, too: the hope of converting readers into authors and reviewers. But let’s cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, let’s just get people on the mailing list. This is a tenant of Web design (and publicity generally): convert one visit into future contacts. That’s why barackobama.com started with a splash page which asked for one thing: your email address.
A journal should make a prominent pitch for visitors to subscribe before they navigate away from the page and forget about the journal. More subscribers leads to more readers, which leads to more authors and referees and commentary.
The OJS default themes should include a sidebar section that says “Enter your email to receive free announcements when a new issue is released”. It should ask for only an email address. (The confirmation email can ask subscribers to register a username, if desired.)
- RSS feeds by default. OJS includes a plugin to produce RSS feeds, but it doesn’t appear to be on by default; many OJS journals don’t offer RSS feeds. See above comments about the importance of turning visitors into subscribers.
- OpenID support. With 2,000 OJS journals floating around, it seems a bit silly to have to create an account at each one, doesn’t it? OpenID would give users a single login not only across other OJS journals, but any site supporting OpenID. Good news, though: OpenID support is in the OJS roadmap.
As a closing comment, I’ll point out that OJS is under active development and progressing quickly. I was going to make a comment on how feed display is ugly, based on Open Medicine as an example, but I thought I ought to check the versions first, to make sure the problem hadn’t been resolved. Sure enough, Open Medicine is using OJS 2.1.1; the release notes of more recent versions mention improvements to feed handling, so this may have been fixed already.