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Farewell to Gutenberg?
  1. Mohsen Shahmanesh
  1. Editor, STI

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    I too find it difficult to imagine life without a novel on the beach or the BMJ in the loo. But the very nature of the imaginative process roots it in the familiar. I fear we are about to enter a world unfamiliar to most of us over the age of 30. Gutenberg is giving way to Gates. And I urge myself to embrace it with a grin. Electronic Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI Online) was born in September alongside other illustrious journals at HighWire Press, a division of the Stanford University's Green Library, whose mission is to “foster research and instruction by providing a more direct link between the writers and readers of scholarly materials”.1 This is not a gimmick, but an effort to stay one step ahead of the inevitable. As a 19th century philosopher once said, freedom is the recognition of necessity. We chose this path freely but, as pioneers, we want also to influence how things develop.

    As with most revolutions the e-revolution is essentially unavoidable. This one has come about because the scientific community believes that scientific research belongs to all. Some original papers are already being put on the web, for all to see, on sites such as the NIH's PubMed Central. It is not a wild guess that in a few years this practice will become universal. Where the peer review process will fit in with this attempt at openness is a subject to which I will return at a later date. Here I hope to whet your appetite.

    STI Online contains full text of articles plus tables and figures, published at the same time as the paper version, thus beating the postman by days or even weeks. Personal subscribers to the paper STI will receive STI Online without additional cost or can subscribe the online version for a reduced rate. Institutional subscribers can subscribe to STI Online separately, the price being determined by the size of the institution. STI Online allows you to browse and search STI archives and access full text of articles from February 1998, as well as abstracts and table of contents for earlier issues. References are hyperlinked to Medline abstracts and free full text links are available to journals hosted by HighWire Press. This is clearly a transitional period. In the longer term the paper version and STI Online will diverge into two different beings, as befits their different natures. We cannot crystal ball gaze too adventurously at this stage, but a recent brainstorming session2 came up with some visions. What follows is the output of those brains in “storm” mode.

    STI Online will experiment with a more open peer review process, invite readers to comment on selected papers in a more interactive way, invite e-letters, and aim to introduce an interactive continuing medical education (CME) programme, which will be coordinated by Sarah Edwards (consultant in genitourinary medicine, West Suffolk Hospital, UK). As HighWire currently hosts over 200 journals including the BMJ and some of the BMJ specialist journals we can create hyperlinks to the full text with related articles in these. We are currently negotiating with our sister journals to see if we can create more direct and dynamic crosslinks between us. Instant free access to Medline could also be augmented by the STI@lert which will alert readers to important related publications in other journals and to important new websites. These will replace the Current Publications section of the journal. We will create direct links to conference sites allowing instant access to abstracts. There will also be more room for cases of instructive (and not just rarity) value—though concerns for confidentiality and consent become even more acute.

    In the more distant future we will experiment with a “journal club,” where selected authors will be asked to summarise their paper, placing it in the context of existing knowledge and how it might change current practice. The electronic format may also allow “chat rooms” on topics of particular interest or controversy. Conference reporting will also be quicker and more direct. We will experiment in summarising some of the more important presentations in Power Point format. The electronic format will also make it easier to expand the “From bench to bedside” (basic science for the clinician) series.

    The paper STI will initially mirror the electronic form in its essential outlines, but with some streamlining. We will try and banish long, indigestible, tables to STI Online. The “Global views” section will have the abstract in paper form and a longer manuscript than at present in e-format. We will do the same for articles dealing with operational issues, with an important but geographically limited audience. This will come under the heading of “In practice”. We will be able to make much more adventurous use of colour.

    On a longer perspective we think the written journal will not only become slimmer, but it will change fundamentally in character from a journal of fact to something more like what one of our editorial board members called for—a “one stop” journal. One attendee at the brainstorming session, in answer to the question “what do you see the paper journal doing in the future?” after some thought came out with: “nothing!” That may be too revolutionary but it contains an inescapable truth. “pSTI”, or for that matter “p-anything” will be unimaginably different from what you have in your hands as you read this—assuming you've got this far. If for no other reason than that there may be less money to take it to the printers! The pSTI of the future may resemble a cross between TV Times, Sight and Sound, and the New York Review of Books. Experts summarising the state of the art, articles from STI and other journals abstracted with an expert's commentary placing it in the context of current knowledge and practice, regular commissioned short reviews of recent advances in specific areas, research methodology, debates, updated lists of websites of interest, etc …

    It is an exciting world we are entering. I have agreed to stay on as editor till December 2002. We have already expanded the hanging committee and will need to make other adjustments to meet the new challenges. We are asking the editorial board to become actively involved in moulding the new journal. We hope, and believe, the changes will make STI even more useful to you, the reader. Yet without your input these thoughts will be like raw eggs, nourishing, but crude. So please let us have your views—“p” or “e”!