Elsevier has presented their vision of the 'article of the future' at the CELL website where a short video introduces some new features for future web journals.
The first striking detail is a tabbed menu on top of the article which allows to navigate between the main sections of an article such as abstract, results, discussion etc. as well as data, figures and references. This is nothing revolutionary but a progress - currently you can only navigate between the article, the figures and the references.
Most interesting are their attempts to link as many information as possible to allow a quick overview on the essence of an article. Surely a result of Elsevier's journal XML (however they call it), which precisely describes the structure of an article and allows to mark elements such as figures or citations within the text. This linking allows interactive navigation within the article. You can immediately take a look a figure by clicking on a link within the results section. And vice versa, by clicking on the data or figures you can immediately highlight the secions in which this figure is mentioned.
However, what was intended to support 'fast reading' seems a bit confusing to me. The text, figures and figure captions are all shown at one page. As a result the area in which the text is shown is reduced to a very narrow column which makes it hard to read. Further, sometimes the figure captions seem to be shown below the figure and sometimes beneath, very confusing.
And Elsevier's idea of a graphic abstract seems really ridiculous to me. This just perverts scientific reading: Mouse eats fatty diet -> Tumor grows -> Mouse dead. Come on guys!!
I was also a bit disappointed by the way Elsevier treats data and external information sources. Elsevier's seems to regard figures as data. But figures are of course highly interpretative visualisations - based on data! It would therefore be great to be able to click on a figure and see the data on which it is based on.
Today a growing amount of such data is stored in specialised data centers such as GeneBank or PANGAEA. But from the impression the demo gave to me, linking to such external sources seems not to be the part of their vision. This is astonishing, as some very exciting and successful cooperation already exist. Just think of the already existing links to GeneBank or the recently announced cooperation with PANGAEA for geoscientific supplementary data. Instead they included some poor Excel files in their data section.
But anyway Elsevier surely heads to the right direction and most of the issues above can easily be fixed. But honestly, if presented to the audience in it's present state Elsevier's vision would offer little advantages to scientist. Most researchers would still prefer to read the abstract online to get a quick overview and print the pdfs to study the details. Or expressed as 'graphical abstract' ... see above.