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Editor's Reflections on 2009
I accepted the position of Editor of Loci in December 2008, and my first official responsibilities began shortly after. Before that, I had been a contributing co-editor for the Developers Area of JOMA, one of the three online journals whose merger brought Loci into existence in July 2008. I also attended a MathDL Workshop at the MAA Carriage House conference facility in Washington, DC, October 2008. So I entered 2009 with some experience dealing with online publication and some idea of the vision for Loci's future which MAA anticipated, but perhaps more importantly, I had my own vision for how Loci could present and position itself as an online math journal.
The 2009 calendar year has been an active time for Loci, and given the circumstances and timing of Loci's formation, the end of 2009 seems to be the appropriate time to officially close the first Volume of Loci. Let me summarize the publishing activities of Loci with a brief table:
Loci Volume 1, July 2008 - December 2009
Loci formed in July 2008 by merging JOMA, DCR, and Convergence
At the start of 2009, I moved quickly to recruit the editorial board and reorganize the Loci main page to reflect the organization of the areas which made up Loci, from the journals involved in the merger: JOMA articles became Loci Featured Items (or "spotlight" articles), and Convergence and DCR became the Loci Areas (or "subsites") Loci: Convergence and Loci: Resources, respectively, each with their own spotlight articles. I also added the Loci: Developers Area, building on JOMA's Developers Area (a personal favorite of mine, given my background), and Loci: Departments, which now includes Supplements, Announcements, and Commentaries (these "Reflections" appear in the Commentaries Department).
Before I continue, a word about the Loci editorial board: I recruited most of the initial board from the group of people who had served on the editorial boards of the three precursor journals, JOMA (Kyle Siegrist and Bruce Yoshiwara serve as Associate Editors for Featured Items, Joe Yanik is Associate Editor for Loci: Developers), DCR (Doug Ensley has been Associate Editor for Loci: Resources), and Convergence (Victor Katz and Janet Beery were the Associate Editors for Loci: Convergence). I recruited several other people through the year, based mostly on recommendations from these veterans: Mike Molinsky has been assisting, and will soon replace, Doug Ensley, with Kady Schneiter joining to assist Mike; Victor Katz stepped down in summer 2009, so Janet Beery took Victor's position and Kathy Clark joined to assist Janet; and Jason Aubrey serves as Associate Editor for the Departments Area. We have been meeting online several times during the year to keep track of work and progress related to Loci and the items which have appeared. This team has done outstanding work through the year.
The Departments Area reflects much of my vision for Loci as an online journal: Loci specializes in articles, particularly in its Featured Items, which make important use of online technologies such as scripts, applets, and hyperlinking. But Loci is, first and foremost, a journal -- an online publication of MAA with articles of interest to MAA members, especially expository articles of general interest to college and university faculty and students. There are some activities and materials common in print journals which I felt could become a significant part of Loci, while still keeping in mind that Loci is online: journals include announcements, commentaries, problems, notes, reviews, etc., many of which could work well online.
Among the Loci Departments, I am most proud of the Supplements Department. I want Loci to work well and fit well within the community of MAA publications, so the Supplements Department was created to provide a place where Loci could publish short materials which accompany and expand on articles in the MAA print journals with interactive online activities. I hope to see this Department grow in the future.
The most active Department has, of course, been the Announcements Department. I hope that this Department will also be an important part of Loci's future -- for example, the Announcements include links to materials from MAA National and Sectional meetings and other conferences. I hope that the Announcements Department will provide a convenient place for MAA memebers to find information online about meetings all over the country.
Most of these changes to Loci were completed in the first half of the year. I entered the second half of the year feeling that we had a comfortable status, and could spend the rest of the year building on the established procedures. Little did I know.
As I mentioned before, I wanted to view Loci within a small community of MAA publications. Loci is part of MathDL, which is modeled as an online mathematics library. I received an announcement of the Digital Mathematics Library workshop, which was held as part of CICM in Grand Bend, Ontario, in July 2009. I attended CICM to represent MathDL and see what ideas I could glean to the benefit of MathDL. The conferences and workshops opened my eyes to a much broader community of online mathematics libraries. I brought many ideas back for MathDL, and I have spent much of the second half of 2009 implementing as much as I could of those ideas. The main thrust of the changes has been to build more robust metadata, compatible with how other digital libraries structure their metadata, and implementing the generic Digital Object Identifiers for articles as a stable alternative to URL's. These changes are not complete yet at this writing.
Moreover, MathDL is a Pathway of NSDL, which also places Loci in the community of Pathways which represent many scholarly fields and education levels. I attended the NSDL Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, in November. This meeting was another revelation for me. MathDL has been part of NSDL since 2001, but we need to look for alternative sources by which we can financially maintain MathDL when our participation in the NSDL grant programs expires. The other Pathways represented at the meeting face many of the same issues, and several of the presentations at the meeting spoke to alternative models for long-term sustainability. I expect to be directing much of my attention in the near future to building a model by which Loci can continue to serve its readers into the distant future.
Another interesting theme at the NSDL meeting was how other Pathways are using Web 2.0 technologies, such as reader-generated content (wikis), reader comments (discussion areas and blogs), reader ratings and reviews (such as seen on Digg), shared page annotations (such as seen on Diigo) and bookmarks (such as seen on del.icio.us), and other means of online collaboration and sharing. Loci and its predecessor journals have experimented with these technologies before: the JOMA Developers Area hosted a Wiki, and MathDL and Loci maintain editor-moderated discussion areas for each article. Our experiences with these technologies have been disappointing, though, in the sense that we see little participation in the opportunities for collaboration. However, I am not abandoning the concept: in August 2009, I started posting announcements of new Loci articles from my Twitter account, and more recently I started attaching Digg buttons to Loci articles.
Given that Web 2.0 technologies have received a lukewarm reception from MAA members and MathDL and Loci readers, I have listened to comments and have heard a prevailing theme that brings me back to another lesson I gleaned from the CICM conferences, and which I heard in a few presentations at the NSDL meeting: Web 3.0 technologies. Our readers want to be able to search our archives by mathematical expressions, which only works if such expressions are expressed uniformly. Given normal differences in notations between regions and subfields, this means that expressions need to be represented semantically and searchable by meaning rather than notation. This is the underlying concept behind the (still mostly hypothetical) Semantic Web, the core Web 3.0 vision. Early semantic technologies, such as Content MathML, have been implemented on some platforms, but the ideal remains far in the future. I have been working to prepare MathDL and Loci to take advantage of these technologies as they are developed.
So I begin 2010 with a much different vision for the future of Loci than the vision I had when I accepted the position as Editor and entered 2009. I am proud of what we have done with Loci, but there will always be more to do. These are exciting times for Loci.