|The bad news about Northern Light (NL) shutting down the Web search
engine component of its NLSearch services for the general public came straight
out of the blue (see page 1 of the February issue or http://www.infotoday.com/newsbreaks/nb020114-1.htm).
True, NL was no longer the largest Web-wide search engine as it was in
early 1999, but when combined with its Special Collection search engine—which
had articles from about 7,100 journals and other serial publications licensed
from such well-known aggregators as Gale Group and ProQuest—NLSearch still
offered the best search tool. Luckily, the news is not as bad as it first
seemed. NLSearch and other NL services still offer plenty of useful features
to the public. As for the Web search engine component, it was still accessible
at the end of January, as I discovered serendipitously.
The Enlightened Era
David Seuss, the CEO of (and brains behind) NL, launched the service
6 years ago, and it immediately shook up the fairly stale information services
industry. He was an outsider who had never worked in the information industry,
yet he still had a better vision than many of those who should have been
ex officio insiders—the then-incumbent CEOs and CIOs of the traditional
online information services. Offering free search services and free abstracts
from thousands of professional and scholarly journals, and charging only
for the full text, was a scary proposition for most of the traditional
online information services, especially the ones that didn't have their
own proprietary content, such as DIALOG.
These services charged membership fees, online search fees, and display/print
fees for some of the very same content that NL offered for free. The full-text
output prices of all the traditional services were also significantly higher
than those of NL, which in the early years charged $1 for articles that
cost four times as much on the traditional online services.
Through its very capable software, NL masterfully integrated the ever-increasing
number of journal articles in the Special Collection with the information
harvested from the millions of free Web sites. Its innovative on-the-fly
classification and the clustering of results into subject and genre folders
received a patent, as well as many kudos and awards. I cheered it 4 years
in a row in my annual "Cheers and Jeers" column for its various innovative
services and pricing policies.
In spite of NL's obvious success and many awards, Seuss did not rest
on his laurels. The company introduced a series of new services, such as
usgovsearch.com, with a focus on information culled from government Web
sites; a free current-awareness service; the GeoSearch service to find
businesses by geographic area; the free Special Editions service, which
gathered information on hot topics from the best Web sites and from some
of the journals in the NL Special Collection; and the free news search
engine based on such respected sources as Associated Press, Business Wire,
Internet Wire, IPO Monitor, Reuters Online, Wireless Insider, TASS, and
U.S. Newswire, to name a few.
The Stuffy Nose Syndrome
It's no wonder that by 1998 many of the traditional online information
services found every opportunity to disparage NL. The perfect example of
this is illustrated in the excerpts of the CEO panel at the Online World
Fall '98 conference as reported by David Hoffman in the November 1998 issue
of Information Today (http://www.infotoday.com/newsbreaks/nb1026-4.htm).
The CEOsof Dialog, LexisNexis, and Dow Jones (now Factiva) all giddily
ganged up on Seuss. They belittled NL, essentially because they'd found
in NL's collection a pamphlet called "You and Your Stuffy Nose," which
the assistants of LexisNexis CEO Hans Gieskes had dug up. Little did they
know that the very same source was under their noses in the LexisNexis
collection. (By the way, the CEOs mistakenly referred to the title of the
pamphlet as "You and Your Runny Nose," rather than the correct "You and
Your Stuffy Nose.")
The three CEOs should not have had their noses in the air, however.
This is a common health problem. The pamphlet had important facts for many
who look for consumer health information on the subject. The publisher
of this pamphlet is theAmerican Academy of OtolaryngologyHead and
Neck Surgery (http://www.entassociates.com/stuffy_nose.htm)
and it is reproduced on several healthcare sites. Maybe the CEOs would
not have looked down their noses at it if it had been called "Idiopathic
Vasomotor Rhinitis." But even doctors call it stuffy nose, at least when
they're off duty or they have the symptoms themselves.
Gieskes is no longer with LexisNexis; neither are Tim Andrews and Dan
Wagner with Dow Jones and Dialog, respectively. At that session, the warning
by Gale Group CEO Allen Paschal went unheeded. To him, something was as
plain as the nose on his face. He said: "All right, this is getting really
ugly, guys. I might just say that I'm thankful that all of you are probably
retrieving Gale Group information through all your access and password
accounts." He was right, and he's still the CEO of the increasingly more
prominent Gale Group (for which I write a monthly Web column—but don't
consider this brown-nosing before you read on).
At Online World '99, Seuss rubbed two CEOs' noses in the pamphlet, bringing
downthe house. As reported in the February 2000issue of EContent,
Marydee Ojala (the utterly competent moderator of both CEO panel sessions)
wrote: "In a follow-up to last year's confrontation, Seuss brandished printouts
of the semi-famous 'You and Your Stuffy Nose' pamphlet, ostentatiously
autographing it for Andrews and noting he had one for Gieskes as well.
(Seuss had printed the documents from Factiva and LexisNexis, respectively.)
He pointedly remarked on its ultimate source—a Gale Group database."
Seuss and NL, as well as Gale Group, kept striving, while the same can't
be said about LexisNexis, Dow Jones, and Dialog during this period. Dialog's
popularity and financial performance plummeted during Wagner's reign.
Luckily, there are many goodies left in the free public version of
NLSearch. For starters, you can still use the NL News Search, which provides
the most efficient tools for news of the past 14 days for free. The time
frame seems to be narrow, but anything older than that is not news but
history. You may limit a news search by subject (for example, science,
health, medicine, economy, and sports) and genre (such as economic data,
press releases, and stock market reports). The results can be sorted by
relevance or by date and time. The database is continuously updated.
The entire Special Editions collection has been kept intact. For example,
the excellent "Publishing and the Web" section has free articles about
the technical, economical, ethical, and legal aspects ofWeb publishing
from TheNew York Times, Scientific American, the San Francisco
Chronicle, Searcher, and Information Today, as well as links
to the most relevant free Web sites (http://special.northernlight.com/publishing).
The usgovsearch site (http://usgovsearch.northernlight.com)
also remains alive, serving free information collected from millions of
pages of government Web sites that are indexed and organized by NL, and
fee-based information from the NL Special Collection of journals. The NTIS
option is displayed, but that database is not available here anymore. The
usgovsearch service still has the best interface and advanced search template,
which allow the user to limit the search to documents of one or more agencies.
These are identified by a series of check-boxes and grouped by major branches
of thegovernment (executive, judicial, legislative).usgovsearch also lists
many of the independent agencies, such as the FCC, NASA, the U.S. Information
Agency, the Small Business Administration, and the National Science Foundation.
The entire NL Special Collection also remains active for public access.
The full-text documents typically cost between $1 and $3 (a very good price),
and bibliographic citations and abstracts are still free. There are thousands
of top-quality scholarly and professional journals and serials in the NL
Special Collection. From 2001 publications alone, a search on the topic
of adolescent violence yielded 161 items from 30 sources. The journals
in the first 20 results included the American Journal of Psychiatry,
Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, Journal of the American Academy
of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, British Journal of Educational
Psychology, Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, Journal of Psychosocial
Nursing & Mental Health Services, International Journal of Social
Psychiatry, American Journal of Community Psychology, and Psychiatry.
To put things into perspective, in the clinically dead Mental Health
Abstracts database, users will find no citations at all for any publications
on any subject from 2001, and only five on this topic from 2000. All this
at $70 per hour and $1.40 per abstract, and without a full-text option
on DIALOG, the only online service that hosts it.
There's no charge for the search and for the good abstracts of scholarly
journals at NLSearch. Moreover, the full text of the articles from these
top-notch journals typically costs only $2.95 at NL. You can find similar
excellent deals by using the NL Special Collection for searching the scholarly
and professional journal literature in a variety of disciplines.
You may even make a better deal if instead of paying per item, you use
Yahoo! Premium Document Service's 50-document subscription option, which
was launched in mid-January and is based on the NL Special Collection (which
Yahoo! has licensed). You can get up to 50 qualifying documents for a total
of $4.95 per month, or only 10 cents per article. Based on comparative
searches, I discuss the qualifying documents from 4,125 journals and the
best strategies to get the most bang for the buck in my upcoming Savvy
Searching column in Online Information Review (Vol. 26, No. 3).
You should also remember that some of the journals in the NL Special
Collection are also available for free in full-text format in the FindArticles.com
service. That said, NLSearch—with its breadth of coverage and smart software
features—still offers a very good deal.
There remains a Business Search service on the new NLSearch page that
features a special template to facilitate focusedsearching by company name,
research firm, specific business journals, and 40 industry sectors. Similarly,
there is a special template for Investext searches to narrow them to investment-related
documents prepared by brokerage firms, investment banks, and research firms
in about 30 business fields. Although you'll no longer find the special
query forms for Market Research and the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU)
Reports, they appear on the Business Search query form as check-box options
for limiting the search. With these options the NLSearch service is still
a prime resource for the discriminating searcher, but I have even better
news for you.
I didn't mourn for long the loss of NLSearch's Web search engine component,
which was integrated with the NL Special Collection. It featured—as did
all NL services—the on-the-fly clustering of results into topical folders.
I had a reason for joy. As I was preparing this piece, I clicked on my
bookmark labeled NLResearch and was taken to http://www.nlresearch.com.
There I could conduct a search using the combined Special Collection and
World Wide Web option. (Mind the details: http://www.nlsearch.com redirects
you automatically to the http://www.northernlight.com
site that was scaled down.)
The NLResearch site is a hidden bonus that has all the goodies that
the NLSearch service had before the partial shutdown on January 16. It
has the NL Web collection (although "only" up to December 20, 2001, with
about 240 million Web resources), as well as the GeoSearch service to limit
your search to a geographic area. It also has the special search sections
and templates for most efficiently searching Market Research and EIU Reports.
I don't know for how long the NLResearch site will be kept online by
Northern Light. Even if NL leaves it accessible, I don't think it will
be updated. Still, I would suggest carpe diem. If NLResearch is
shut down, consider the remaining NLSearch service with the glass-half-full
attitude, and save a lot on your search expenses.
Péter Jacsó is associate professor of library and information
science at the University of Hawaii's Department of Information and Computer
Sciences. His e-mail address is email@example.com.