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Magazines > Information Today > July/August 2004
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Information Today

Vol. 21 No. 7 — July/August 2004

In Other Words
Patriotic Acts
By Lauree Padgett

My dad turns 82 this month. Like many in his generation, he enlisted in the service just out of high school and fought in World War II. I hope that over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, you took a moment to recognize and appreciate the sacrifice that hundreds of thousands of men and women have made on behalf of the U.S. since the Revolutionary War.

Real Deals

Do you find that having to negotiate online subscriptions is comparable to the American colonists being forced into taxation without representation? Well, a modern-day Paul Revere of sorts is galloping through the pages of ONLINE to help you pull off a surprise cost-saving maneuver or two. In "Let's Make a Deal: Tips and Tricks for Negotiating Content Purchases" (July/August 2004), Sharon Srodin says there's a middle ground between accepting an initial service contract and losing access to key information by playing hardball.

First, Srodin says, "Mooch off someone else." Find out which other departments in your company need third-party content. By adding your group to a pre-existing contract, you may save money and aggravation. Next, size up the competition. Shop around and find out what other vendors are offering. Srodin says that to keep your business, a vendor might agree to take an initial loss, hoping that over time it'll end up making money. What if there's just no way to shave dollars off the contract? That's when it's time to scope out the "frills and freebies." Will the vendor throw in free training, expanded tech support, manuals, etc.?

Srodin also points out, "A deal in the hand is worth two in the bush." That is, if paying a vendor a year in advance will allow you to keep the current year's contract pricing in place, go for it. Speaking of contracts, if all the legalese makes your head spin, seek out legal personnel or folks from the procurement department who may have the experience you need to deal with difficult vendors and help cut out some hidden costs. Make sure the vendor is accurately tracking usage and basing your fees appropriately. Remember, potential-user and actual-user numbers can be vastly different.

Finally, Srodin suggests that you name-drop. New vendors eager to get a foot in a specific industry might sweeten the deal based on your name and size (and future prospects). Srodin concludes that to get an equitable deal, "All you require is a modest knowledge of the current competitive market, coupled with an accurate assessment of your own needs."

Helping the Medical Info Go Down

When it comes to online medical resources, using the National Library of Medicine's site is like being assisted by Clara Barton, famed Civil War nurse and founder of the American Red Cross: You can't ask for much better service. In her Finders Keepers column (The CyberSkeptic's Guide to Internet Research, July/August 2004), Marylaine Block reports on the enormous amount of content and flexibility that has been added to the NLM site. A redesigned home page that debuted in May makes it possible to link to the most frequently requested information, including PubMed, all NLM databases and resources, grants and funding, and toxicology and environmental health. Newly added portals aim to meet the specific needs of NLM's primary user groups: the general public, health professionals, researchers, librarians, and publishers.

Users can search on the new NLM site through four metasearch engines: the general NLM site search, NLM Gateway, TOXNET, and Entrez, each of which Block critiques in her column. Block also shares some "hidden gems"—databases that aren't covered by these four engines—and even finds an area that still needs improvement: the librarians' portal page. But overall, Block says that the site has added significant new collections of understandable and reliable information to help the average user. And for info pros and researchers, it has successfully desegregated its information, so it can be found whether it's generated by NLM or related government agencies.

One Hot Gig

How do you attempt to become king of the hill in the competitive search engine market? To paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, if you're Google, you walk softly and carry a big gig. In April, Google announced its Gmail Webmail service, which offers customers a free 1-gigabyte mailbox. But as Richard Wiggins points out in "Gmail: Google Storms the Webmail Market" (Searcher, July/August 2004), there are reasons to both love and be wary of Gmail.

First, there's the good stuff. Gmail is highly interactive and intuitive but keeps its screen uncluttered without skimping on functionality. And it's got a great search feature that you'll really appreciate once you've got plenty of e-mail messages. Wiggins says, "Gmail indexes your mailbox to let you search it as rapidly as Google Web searches handle the Web." And no matter which transaction you perform, it's fast.

But all is not perfect. You can't put mail in the trash and delete it. Also, there's currently no POP support. Gmail isn't kidding with its tagline of "Search, don't sort." It won't let you create folders to file away mail into different categories, although you can label messages. And once you have mail, it's yours to keep. There's no trash folder to dump messages that you want deleted and no way to delete them.

There's another issue with Gmail: privacy. Gmail is structured so that ads based on the content of the message appear in your message display. Some are alarmed by the thought of a robot reading through a user's every message. Others, including Wiggins, see the 1 GB of storage space as a fair trade-off for Google's data-mining of all incoming messages. However, this isn't what Wiggins considers to be Gmail's real privacy threats. Read his article to learn more and see if Gmail's backup procedures are in place to meet the needs of millions of users and their gigabytes.

Roaming and Rambling

Over the summer, I'm sure many of you will be taking some time off from your normal work routine to get in planes, trains, boats, and cars for a much-needed vacation. I wish you all safe journeys. See you in September.

 


Lauree Padgett is Information Today, Inc.'s manager of editorial services. Her e-mail address is lpadgett@infotoday.com.
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