The “Natural Unit” of Health Information

In Everything is Miscellaneous, David Weinberger writes:

Bundling songs into long-playing albums lowered the production, marketing, and distribution costs because there were fewer records to make, ship, shelve, categorize, alphabetize, and inventory. As soon as music went digital, we learned that the natural unit of music is the track.

This leaves me thinking: What’s the “natural unit” of health information? Is the article to an issue of a journal what a track is to an LP record? After all, clinicians never come to our library seeking an issue– they come in search of an article.

This leads me back to thinking about Marcus Banks’ idea of using a blog as a journal. If digital distribution eliminates the need to reduce costs by bundling mostly-unrelated articles together once a month, why bundle articles into “issues” for a digital journal? Why not release them online whenever their editorial processes are complete and they’re ready to be “published?”

I was fortunate to finally meet Marcus last week at MLA 2008. We got together along with Melissa Rethlefsen and Rachel Walden to talk about what the future of the journal might look like and agreed, I think, that we have more questions than answers.


Left to right: Marcus Banks, Rachel Walden, David Rothman. Photo by Melissa Rethlefsen and her cool new Blackberry

3 thoughts on “The “Natural Unit” of Health Information

  1. PLOS and the BioMed Central operations function somewhat like that already–you are alerted to articles as they are published. I know that when I newsmaster I look for topics in tables of contents and bother what the journal is. I take what I need and leave–and it is always interesting to see an item on child abuse, say, in a specialized radiology journal. I think we should call such things, “info chunks.” Or chunkettes.

  2. Great to meet you as well David! I’m feeling very Bay Area these days–always wear that fleece jacket no matter where I am. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Some interesting thoughts on what the na … « (the) health informaticist