Adventures in Content Alerting: Sage Online

Sage is one of the larger publishers in social sciences around, known (at least to me) for producing copious amounts of sociology with an indescribable but instantly recognizable vaguely modernist “academic-press” visual aesthetic. In this post I’ll focus just on Sage’s journals and the content alerting that they offer at their website, “sagepub.com”:sagepub.com.

In terms of anthropology, Sage publishes just a few titles that are relevant to the discipline as a whole, but I have to admit that I have a soft spot in my heart for them — “Anthropological Theory”:http://ant.sagepub.com/ and “Critique of Anthropology”:http://coa.sagepub.com/. However, Sage is also are particularly strong in cultural studies type of journals, including a lot of new media stuff, so if you are interested in Theory, Culture, and Society or Media, Culture, and Society, you have to go to Sage. If, like me, you are an amateur intellectual historian, you can also check out their old-school sociological theory titles like the “Journal of Classical Sociology” and “History of the Human Sciences.”

Sage makes it relatively easy to sign up for an account on their website. Indeed, it is impossible to miss — they’ve currently got a drawing for an iPod going and everyone who signs up is elligible! Moreover, it is very easy to change your account preferences because the ‘manage my accounts’ page hovers in the upper-left hand corner of your window when you visit the site. This page is also where you go to sign up for snailmail alerts and manage your physical address as well. This is very handy and well implemented. The problem is that the ‘manage my accounts’ page has very little to do with the majority of the services that Sage’s site provides.

The good news is that Sage’s website offers many of these services. It has RSS feeds available for its journals, but will also send you emails of new tables of contents. It even has an alerting feature that you can set up so that it will send you an email whenever an article is published on a particular topic of by a particular person. Each journal has a list of ‘most cited articles’ which is intriguing (although I have no idea how they came up with these lists). You can also create a list of “my favorite journals.”

The bad news is that while Sage’s site has a single login which lets you manage your account and is thus ‘identity-heavy,” the services it offers are incredibly fragmented — while you have a single identity to the site, the site has no centralized place for you to go to manage your accounts. True, certain parts of the website work very well. After you register for an account you can go to their “My Alert Summary and Preferences”:http://online.sagepub.com/cgi/alerts/ page. Here you can specify how you want to receive emailed alerts from them (in text, html, and so forth) and you can browse through a long list of journals. The list is expandable and can be sorted by dicipline or alpha by title. It’s very handy and makes signing up for content alerts — hence the title “My Content Alerts.” But ‘My Alert Summary’ includes a link to “My Alerts for Other Journals” which is confusingly titled since it really means “My alerts for journals that are not published by Sage.”

This is typical of Sage — they have tons of services, but they are often confusingly labeled and it is difficult to figure out where to access them. On Sage’s website you can sign up for table of contents, eTOCS, TOC awareness, citetrack personal alerts, ‘my content alerts’ and ‘my favorite journals’ and ‘other journals.’ But what is the difference between ‘eTOCS,’ ‘TOC awareness’ and ‘table of contents’ alerting?

What’s more, navigation on the site is difficulty. The “My Alerts Page” is the closest thing you can get to a central user homepage, and in fact it’s quite difficult to actually find it on the Sage website. The Sage website also seems to open every new link that you click on in a new window, resulting in tons of open windows and no clear sense of the structure of their website and where you are in it. And what’s more, all of this alerting falls under the ‘journals online’ section of the website, while browsing through Sage’s online selection of journals is under the ‘journals’ section of the website. Not only does this not make much sense, but integration between these two sections of the website is spotty.

Each journal has its own site (complete with distinct URL), which could make things clearer, but in fact it only gets you more lost. When you find a journal you like and want to receive alerts about it and click the ‘content alert’ button on top of the page for that journal, it takes you into a journal-specific ‘my alerts’ page (which is in accessible from the ‘my alerts’ page). When you are viewing the table of contents for an issue you are also told you have the chance to sign up for ‘eTOCS’ which you must register for (even if you are logged in) but this option actually just takes you to the ‘my alerts’ page. And of course the ‘content alert’ button is available on the journals websites. So I can sign up for content alerting at “Sage’s home page for anthropological theory”:http://www.sagepub.com/journal.aspx?pid=177 but not on “Anthropological Theory’s website”:http://ant.sagepub.com/ and of course there is no way to get to the latter from the former. But you can only get RSS feeds from the latter and not the former.

And all of this is totally seperate from the ‘my favorite journals’ option. The idea behind ‘my favorite journals’ is to create a list of (wait for it) your favorite journals. You can then restrict searches through Sage’s online content to these journals and go directly to their homepage. It does not, however, have anything to do with content alerting. And there is no way to add journals to your ‘my favorite journals’ page when you are on the homepage for that journal, which is of course exactly where you’ll be when you are browsing through journals and decide that you want to add them.

Confused? You should be. In fact after spending an hour on the ir website I am still unclear on how all the bits and pieces of Sage’s site add up. It is as if they had a list of features that they wanted to implemenet but never really thought about how their users would actually find their way around the site. Despite the silly and easily-avoidable confusion about labelling different parts of the site, the real sin that Sage commits is creating an identity-heavy website and then giving you no centralized place to do anything with that identity. At least at the University of Chicago Press site no one expected you have a central ‘my page’ location for you to go to. Sage does expect you to do this, but then fails to provide that page.

All in all Sage has a lot of tools, and those of us who are really dedicated to learning how to use them can do so. But just a few more links in the right places and a few changes to how things are named would make would Sage’s already-present functionality and make it much more useful. At this level of design they had better publish really superb material, because no one is going to visit the Sage website because of the value it adds to their products.

Rex

Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at rex@savageminds.org