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Smart manuscripts

· 3 min read

In our previous post we described the first (Nature!) publication that used Figlinq for creating interactive, data-connected figures and charts, which were included via a single hyperlink. This is easy, convenient and, importantly, 100% compatible with current academic publishing workflows.

But we can do much better than this.

Enter smart manuscript - an ever-evolving, liquid concept of a manuscript containing more than just text, pictures and videos. While a few individual scientists have been including links to interactive charts in their publications for over half a decade, F1000 Research was perhaps the first academic publisher to embrace this within its workflow. F1000 also enabled readers to control parameters for some of the charts, and even introduced the first living figure, which (still) enables scientists to add new versions of the presented data.

A few years have passed since these pioneering attempts, and with the recent advancements of interconnected digital (web) technology, the potential of smart manuscripts has become essentially limitless. One illuminating illustration of this potential is the Executable Research Article (ERA), introduced by eLife, in collaboration with Stencila. ERA allows inclusion of executable code blocks which can, for instance, ingest source data, process it and spit out a chart or table (but imagine what else it could do, given some extra code!). These blocks can then be examined and re-run, in real-time, by those readers who wish to adjust the analysis steps and/or parameters. Alas, for the time being, the flexibility and scope of ERAs and similar solutions demand some serious effort, as well as programming skills that may be beyond the reach of most scientists.

So, we created our own version of a smart manuscript! We based it on the same Nature paper described in our previous post, but now all 126 panels are embedded directly in the online document, where they can be interacted with, edited, forked, shared, etc. As all Figlinq's charts, they are permanently data-connected. And as we learned to expect, the manuscript behaves well on large as well as small screens, with charts maintaining their interactivity via touch on a mobile device or tablet.

Figlinq's first smart manuscript

Right now, this is just a technology preview - a sneak peek at what's inevitably around the corner. What's next? We're exploring possibilities to provide such next-generation manuscripts at scale (we will likely need help from academic publishers!). We are also reaching out to forward-looking organizations (such as eLife or F1000) to see whether Figlinq's interactive figures can become building blocks for the future smart manuscripts. Please let us know if you have any suggestions and - stay tuned!