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Magazines > Information Today > September 2004
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Information Today

Vol. 21 No. 8 — September 2004

NewsBreak Update
Developments in Open Access, Search, and More
By Paula Hane

Following the busy conference period in June, many industry companies seemed to take a breather from making big announcements during the hot summer months, but things are bound to pick up soon. Many companies have promised to announce big news during Q4 2004. And for opportunities to talk to company representatives, see new products, and network with colleagues, a roster of fall conferences will fill the bill. This month brings Outsell, Inc.'s new conference (with the catchy name Go!) to Leesburg, Va., and Information Today, Inc.'s WebSearch University returns to Washington, D.C. October will feature Internet Librarian International in London and KMWorld & Intranets in Santa Clara, Calif. November presents an opportunity to visit beautiful Monterey, Calif., for the popular Internet Librarian conference.

It might have seemed quiet on one front, but there were—and continue to be—several busy spots for news. Open access continues to be a major hot button for discussion, and developments with search engines and search applications continue to be as active as ever.

As we go to press, Google, Inc. was opening the auction on its highly anticipated $1.8 billion IPO. Maybe it was a Friday the 13th quirk, but early that day, about a week before the auction opened, Google filed an amended document with the SEC concerning comments made by its founders in the September 2004 issue of Playboy. (What were they thinking?) There could be repercussions if Google violated the "quiet period" securities rule. Things are never dull when following news of this company.

Open-Access Update

On July 20, following 7 months of deliberation, the U.K. House of Commons' Science and Technology Committee concluded that the current model for scientific publishing is unsatisfactory and called on the U.K. government to support open access (OA). In a NewsBreak, Information Today columnist Richard Poynder reported on the publication of the committee's 118-page report ("Scientific Publications: Free for All?"), which blamed the current situation on a "combination of publishers' pricing [policies] and the inadequacy of library budgets" and berated large commercial publishers like Reed Elsevier for clinging to an outdated subscriber-pays publishing model in order to protect its "excessive profits."

Just before the U.K. report was published, the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Appropriations recommended that the National Institutes of Health provide free public access to research articles resulting from NIH-funded research 6 months after publication. The European Commission also is investigating the STM publishing markets in Europe, so pressure is definitely mounting. The large publishers are working to discredit the new author-pays models introduced by OA publishers like BioMed Central and the Public Library of Science.

Then, BioMed Central announced that it would consult with librarians and funding bodies about future mechanisms for funding open-access publishing. The consultation workshop took place in London on Aug. 31. The publisher said that conclusions of the meeting will be published this month.

Meanwhile, several scholarly research and library-related lists have absolutely buzzed for months with questions, commentary, and debates on every conceivable aspect of OA. This October, Internet Librarian International will feature an Open Access Forum for Internet librarians. Richard Poynder (whose October Poynder on Point column will focus on the history of OA) will interview the highly opinionated and often-quoted Stevan Harnad, who can be observed debating the subject of open access daily on his American Scientist Open Access Forum list, which he has moderated since 1998. Then, a panel of experts will discuss the challenges and opportunities for librarians, followed by an open discussion. A similar forum will follow in November at Internet Librarian with a recap of the London forum, including another interview with Harnad and further discussion. The results of both will be published in Information Today and ONLINE.

Search Developments

Over the last several months we've seen a flurry of news from the search engine companies. In addition to general search enhancements, the developments focused on the following key areas: news, personalization, and local search capabilities.

Microsoft has improved and streamlined its MSN search page, which still uses results from Yahoo!, and has also made a trial version of its own in-development search engine available on MSN's Sandbox site. The company, which obviously has big plans to become a major search player, is said to be working on a desktop search application as well.

MSN has been testing Newsbot, a personalized news service, in other countries and has now gone live with a beta in the U.S. (in conjunction with MSNBC). The personalized "virtual newsstand" on the MSNBC site taps over 4,800 sources and includes coverage from the Associated Press. According to Barbara Quint, users of the Newsbot service should notice one major difference from Google News and even Yahoo! News. "The Newsbot service connects in every category to related reference tools. It integrates content from searches and news feeds with sources available on the portal," she wrote.

MSN also has acquired Lookout Software, makers of a personal Microsoft Outlook 2003 search tool. Lookout enables fast search on a user's PC for e-mail, files, Outlook data such as calendar entries, and desktop searches. Desktop search applications are definitely a hot area to watch.

Yahoo! has been busy as well, tweaking its service and adding content. In a recent NewsBreak, Quint reported on Yahoo!'s successful addition of the OCLC Open WorldCat content through Yahoo!'s Content Acquisition Program. In the article, David Mandelbrot, Yahoo!'s vice president of search content, talked about the company's plans. "Down the road we are focused on personalized search. We have a team of engineers working on discovering user intentions when they do a search. We're looking at folders and clustering and other personalization techniques. Relevancy and freshness are huge priorities for us, and our technology does a much better job in those areas as well as in comprehensiveness."

Yahoo! also launched a redesign of its search engine results page with an "also try" link providing suggested search query terms, again focusing on closing in on searcher intentions. And InfoWorld reported that Yahoo! is working on a desktop search application: "In addition to letting users search their local mail and hard drive, Yahoo's tool will extend the search to include personal files stored at its online services, such as e-mail, calendar, and picture hosting."

The general Web search engines are not the only ones offering personalization features. Endeca announced the availability of Endeca ProFind 4.5, a new version of the company's enterprise search and navigation platform. The new features are designed to improve relevancy, customize the discovery process, and further simplify administration and management. The platform also offers personalized content-spotlighting. Based on a user's known job function, geography, preferences, history, etc., it will dynamically display specific content related to a search query or browse path.

Local Search Is Hot

Ask Jeeves, Inc. has licensed Citysearch's local content, business data, and user ratings to help power Smart Search results for local searches on Ask Jeeves. The Smart Search technology provides direct links or a direct answer at the top of the results page.

Yahoo!, Inc. released a beta of Yahoo! Local that integrates proprietary Yahoo! Search Technology, Yellow Pages (with more than 14 million businesses) and maps offerings, and third-party and user-generated content to create an improved local search experience for consumers. A number of personalization features are part of the package.

Niche Engine

China Daily Information Co., in a partnership with China Communications Corp., is getting ready to launch "a new revolutionary business search engine, utilizing a new and proprietary artificial intelligence technology." In a July press announcement, the companies said they would launch the portal Acoona this December in the U.S. and China, which, they state, will deliver "the most relevant business search engine results." According to the press release, the technology uses a complex algorithm that recalculates the meaning of words to better understand the user's search query. "Acoona's Artificial Intelligence Technology will elevate search engine performance to a new, unprecedented level," said Eckhard Pfeiffer, former CEO of COMPAQ Computer and chairman of China Communications Corp.'s board of consultants. According to information on the site, Acoona will feature extensive business data—on a reported 50 million companies worldwide—previously not available on the Internet. We'll be watching for this one.

FIND/SVP and two partners introduced a new business search engine, Find.com. The free search aggregates results from major Web search engines and 3,000 selected business Web sites. Also provided is access to an eclectic group of premium research content that can be purchased on a per-document basis. The initial group of content providers included The Gallup Organization, Frost & Sullivan, BNET, ChoicePoint, NetContent, and FIND/SVP. Also available are AdForum.com and data from Devonshire Associates, Ltd., a provider of marketing information products and services.

More on Desktop Search

This summer, blinx, a new Web and desktop search tool, was launched. The free, downloadable application claims to use self-learning algorithms to understand the context of what you are reading on your computer screen, such as documents, e-mails, Web sites, news articles, blogs, and even videos. While it has received a great deal of positive press coverage, my initial testing gave me inadequate relevance and usefulness. But this is a product to watch as it develops.

X1 Technologies, Inc. updated its desktop search application with enhanced query capabilities and broader support of file attachments. X1 first launched its X1 Search application in February as a way for users to quickly find e-mails, attachments, contacts, and desktop files. X1's file-filter technology lets users preview and index the contents of 255 files in their native formats, whether or not the native applications are installed.

Traditional Services' Upgrades

This seems to be the year for the traditional services to work on major upgrades to their technology platforms and interfaces. In July, ProQuest rolled out the latest release of its online service. It introduced ProQuest Smart Search, a technology that taps ProQuest's indexing to offer suggestions to users. The new service also provides advanced browsing, enhanced linking, and enhanced e-mail capabilities.

The following is a brief roundup of other upgrades:

• Ovid is now finishing up the architectural work on its platform, which will allow it to be more nimble in the marketplace and introduce interface improvements.

• Dialog introduced a new platform and enhanced interfaces to both Dialog Profound and Dialog NewsRoom. The company continues to work on its integration strategies.

• Early this fall, Ingenta, Inc. will replace its two existing online research interfaces (Ingenta and Ingentaselect) with IngentaConnect. The newly architected platform allows Ingenta to provide simplified navigation, improved linking, and enhanced personalization.

• Thomson Gale currently is working on a significant adjustment to its data architecture and a major technological initiative to create
one fully searchable platform for
all its content.

While the general Web search engines are busy adding more advanced features and reaching out to add hidden Web and scholarly content, the traditional services are working hard to upgrade their technologies and improve the user experience, making it easier to get to the right information faster and in a more streamlined, point-and-click environment. It will be interesting to watch as the two sides move closer together.

Miscellaneous Content News

On Oct. 1, ERIC will introduce free-of-charge, full-text non-journal ERIC resources. These materials include more than 105,000 full-text documents authorized for electronic ERIC distribution from 1993 to July 2004, previously sold through E*Subscribe from the ERIC Document Reproduction Service (EDRS). EDRS, which also sells the ERIC microfiche, is scheduled to shut down operations on Sept. 30.

An international agreement will expand the backfiles of historically significant medical journals and make them freely available via PubMed Central. The Wellcome Trust, in partnership with the Joint Information Systems Committee, and the U.S. National Library of Medicine are joining forces to digitize the complete backfiles of a number of titles. NLM is managing and hosting the archive.

For the latest industry news, check http://www.infotoday.com every Monday morning. An easier option is to sign up for our free weekly e-mail newsletter, NewsLink, which provides abstracts and links to the stories we post.

 


Paula J. Hane is Information Today, Inc.'s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks. Her e-mail address is phane@infotoday.com.
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