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Magazines > Information Today > July/August 2004
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Information Today

Vol. 21 No. 7 — July/August 2004

Internet Insights 
Linking on Steroids
By PÉTER JACSÓ

I wrote this column just before going to the Society for Scholarly Publishing's (SSP) 26th Annual Meeting. There, I spoke at a half-day seminar titled "Linking on Steroids" with my esteemed peers from the scholarly publishing world. We discussed the state of the art in Web linking from the perspective of authors, publishers, database aggregators, libraries, and end users. Clicking on http://hypatia.slis.hawaii.edu/~jacso/ssp/linking/linking.ppt will take you to my detailed PowerPoint presentation, which demonstrates the variety of links in different databases on different host systems. In this column, I'll provide some insights into the best and worst linking practices that I encountered in preparing for my seminar on link typology and topology.

The Power of Citation Linking

The backbone (and bane) of scholarly publishing is the set of references cited by authors and listed at the end of their works. These have become the primary links in publishers' digital archives, databases of A&I services, and aggregators' services. The greatest advancements in linking have been the links to cited and citing references, the technical counterparts of the intellectual acts of referring to other works, with possibly instant delivery of a full bibliographic record, the abstract of the cited record, or its full text. The last option depends on the subscription status of the users (typically their libraries) to the cited/citing source.

The links may be categorized according to their domain. Some are restricted to cited/citing works within the database. These intra-database links have been the most widely used by aggregators. Inter-database links within a host are more gratifying as they increase the chances of getting access to the abstract and/or full text of the cited/citing documents. The most powerful are the inter-host links between, say, OCLC and EBSCO or Elsevier and Wiley.

Not only is the access to cited/citing documents subject to subscription status, sometimes it's also the tracing options. For example, only subscribers to the American Physical Society's (APS) archive can display the cited references. (The bibliographic citations and abstracts are free to everyone.) The Institute of Physics' (IoP) archive displays the cited references of articles for any user via its intelligent HyperCite technology. The IoP archive also includes links to its free abstracts and its sometimes free HTML/PDF articles. In addition, IoP also provides links to those archives/databases that offer free abstracts (APS, ChemPort, PubMed) or free full text (PubMed Central and most preprint archives). IoP also includes links to subscription-based services (INSPEC, ScienceDirect, etc.) as well as to citing articles in a variety of databases similar to the cited articles. Many of the links are based on the Digital Object Identifier (DOI) and the services of CrossRef.

Among the inter-host links, one of the most powerful combinations is when a publisher links to citing and cited references as well as to related articles (which share one or more cited references with the article being consulted) in the gargantuan ISI Web of Science databases. Typically, these links are only offered if the user subscribes to the databases of both the linking and linked partners. However, Annual Reviews, Inc. offers these links (up to 10 citing and related articles in Web of Science) to anyone, even without registering with the Annual Reviews site. Believe me, the Annual Reviews are top-ranked publications in many disciplines.

The Bane of Citation Linking

Sadly, a significant proportion of the cited references have typos in their titles and/or page numbers as well as in the names of authors, journals, volumes, and issues. Abstracting-and-indexing services add their own typos and inconsistencies (and sometimes correct the erroneous ones in the source, as H.W. Wilson does so well). Humans can cope with most of the errors and find the cited works (often with a little help from librarians), but link-resolver programs (as with most other software) are hypersensitive to accurate syntax. They often fail to find the cited items even if they're right under their noses in the same archive/database.

Although DOIs could be the best tools for fighting the consequences of citation errors, only a few A&I services add the DOI to their bibliographic records. Even if they do add them, the host services may not retain them. CSA, OCLC, and EBSCO deserve kudos for retaining and displaying the DOIs. Not accidentally, they have the best built-in link-related features—and not just for common citation linking. Citation sloppiness backfires in linking and occasionally defeats even the smartest systems.

For example, in the American Psychological Association's PsycINFO database, the beginning of the title of one of my test articles, "The explosion of knowledge, references, and citations," appears erroneously as "The explosion knowledge...." The latter may be useful in the fight against terrorism but may make the authors explode for several reasons. One reason is the lack of links to the full text of their article in those systems that automatically generate links from the title combined with one or more other data elements. The second reason is that exact title searches in PsycINFO would not find the record. The third is that aggregators (such as EBSCO and CSA) that go out of their way to enrich the records in databases by showing how many times an article was cited (within the same database or host) will list this article—understandably—as uncited.

If you think that these are rare mistakes at APA and that the organization will rush to correct them, think again. As I reported 6 months ago in my January 2004 "Cheers and Jeers" column, at the end of 2003 PsycINFO had 11,852 records with syntactically incorrect publisher URLs (including its own) with a backward-leaning pair of slashes. At the end of May, there were 22,335 such records.

There are other types of power links based on citation analysis, as in the University of Southampton's awesome though experimental Citebase and ParaCite, as well as other indicators of scholarly clout that I'll discuss in a future column. As promised earlier this year, my next column will be about metasearching, which happens to be the subject of another session that I moderated at the SSP conference.

 


Péter Jacsó is a professor of library and information science at the University of Hawaii's Department of Information and Computer Sciences. His e-mail address is jacso@hawaii.edu.
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