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|VOLUME 26 • NUMBER 4 • JULY/AUGUST 2002|
ON THE NET •
Free Full Text: FindArticles and MagPortal
by Greg R. Notess
Reference Librarian, Montana State University
The Net is an often strange mixture of different kinds of information content. From absolutely meaningless pages to detailed technical reports and from spam e-mail to software source code, the Net offers a broad range of content. Since the early stages of the Net, bibliographic databases have been one part of that mix. With the ascension of the Web as the Internet publishing medium of choice, full-text articles have also been appearing in more and more places.
While much of the best of the full-text world on the Web is available only via subscription or other fee-based access, there are also free, searchable full-text collections of articles. Publishers' Web sites frequently offer access to articles from their own periodicals, even if it is only selected articles. One example is selected articles from ONLINE posted to the Information Today Inc. Web site [www.infotoday.com] along with other ITI publications. As the Web has aged, the archives of articles have gotten deeper. Alas, as ad revenues declined, more sites started charging for access.
Luckily, free articles remain on the Web and have a variety of finding tools. Two of the most interesting free, searchable collections of full-text articles are FindArticles [www.findarticles.com] and MagPortal [www.magportal.com]. Both of these sites offer free access to the articles, although both do it in quite different ways. Compared to the commercial full-text products, these free Web sites are relatively small. FindArticles has about 500 periodicals while MagPortal covers only 150. Yet these sites provide access to thousands of full-text articles to everyone on the Web, no subscription required. While many librarians have much more comprehensive databases available, there are times when the likes of FindArticles and MagPortal can be important and useful online tools.
DIFFERENT KINDS OF ARTICLES
Before exploring the search tools, it is important to differentiate between the kinds of online articles that are available. The Web has created an interesting and sometimes awkward situation for periodical publishers offering both print and online versions of their articles. For the professional and research-oriented journals, most of the online versions are exact duplicates of the print. However, for popular magazines, online-only journals, and news periodicals, the online and print versions can diverge.
The print copy of an article may include graphics, tables, diagrams, notes, or charts. The formatting of the print version will remain the same from one copy of the periodical to the next—and will be the full text of the article.
An online version of the print article may include only the text from the body of the article. If there are graphics, they may be different than the ones in the print version. In some cases, the online version may have a variety of errors that crept in during the translation from the publishing file to an online full-text version. In addition, online editions of periodicals may have Web exclusives. These can be articles that only appear online, or there may be additional material that was too lengthy for the print version. This makes determining the "real" article, the one with archival validity, difficult.
The better known, at least in the library community, of these two services is a partnership between LookSmart and Gale. Péter Jacsó discussed FindArticles in his September/October 2001 and March/April 2002 "Picks and Pans" ONLINE columns. To reiterate some of the basics: FindArticles has the text of articles from about 500 print periodicals with coverage back to 1998. It is freely available on the Web. Some of its articles are included in the LookSmart directory [www.looksmart.com] as well as in the Open Directory, at Yahoo!, and thus indexed by general search engines.
It is certainly an interesting and rather surprising partnership to many in the library community. But FindArticles offers access to only a small subset of Gale's entire full-text collection. The FindArticles versions are just plain body text—there's no graphics, PDF version, or full image copy of the article. Search features are minimal. It defaults to an OR, accepts use of the + symbol to include terms and the symbol to exclude terms, and has phrase searching with the double quotes. Subject terms are listed near the top of a full article display after "Terms related to this article" and are searchable.
The list of periodicals covered includes a wide range of subjects. From ArtForum to Wrestling Digest to Jet to National Review, the titles range from well known to obscure and from popular to peer-reviewed. It does not include some of the most popular titles such as Newsweek, Time, U.S. News & World Report, or National Geographic, but the collection is broad enough to be useful for many topics. The online versions of the print articles at FindArticles will not be Web exclusives since they come from Gale, but are available on the Web for free.
While limited in many ways, FindArticles is a great resource for simple article searching if you do not have ready access to something better. The larger databases from Gale, EBSCO, ProQuest, or other vendors available at many libraries are certainly far more comprehensive, offer local customization options, and have far more useful search features.
HotNeuron's MagPortal site takes a completely different approach. Rather than obtaining the "old-style" online versions of print articles that Gale and our other vendors have—and that FindArticles uses—MagPortal indexes Net-based online articles. It is a smaller database than FindArticles, covering about 150 online periodicals. Note that not all articles from each of the listed periodicals are necessarily indexed. Instead, only those that are freely available online are included.
One advantage to using MagPortal is that it includes some Web-exclusive content. For example, it includes some online-only periodicals such as D-Lib Magazine, Temaceleste, erivativesreview.com, Search Engine Report, and RootPrompt.org. These are rarely covered in other periodical indexes. Some, like erivativesreview.com, are not even covered in the Web search engines due to their own robots.txt file.
Like FindArticles, MagPortal is relatively light on search capabilities. It defaults to an AND operation, but excludes any stop words as well as any words that have no matches anywhere in its database. Phrase searching is not supported. The results have links both to the article on the publishers' Web sites and to the home page for the publication itself.
MagPortal has a browsable subject hierarchy. FindArticles has one for its periodicals, but MagPortal actually has human indexers look at the articles and classify the individual articles into its subject taxonomy. When browsing any subject category, MagPortal lists the most current articles first and informs the reader how many "older" articles are available. Both current and old articles are searched from the search box.
MagPortal offers four ways to sort results: relevance (listed as "quality of match," which is the default), date, publication, and category. These offer some interesting ways to evaluate search results and should certainly be explored. Also be sure to note that in the results list the source, the date, and the author are listed in a somewhat separate column on the left, while the title and summary (often an extract) are on the right.
Other features from MagPortal include the ability to save articles in your own account and to find similar articles by clicking on a strange, orange, squiggly line. One of the primary advantages to using MagPortal is that it is indexing online articles that are not included in standard library commercial databases and some that may not be found by standard Web search engines. There are plenty of other Web-based periodicals that it does not include, but at least it is a starting point.
WHEN TO USE THEM
Let there be no mistake, for most professional literature searches, and any search that aims to be comprehensive, these two free full-text resources are not going to be the starting point of choice. Indeed, for those of us with access to larger databases that have indexing of many thousands of periodicals with full-text access to many of them, it becomes easy to forget their lesser cousins on the free Web. But there are some times when these resources can be quite useful.
Typically, subscription access to the large vendor-supplied databases is only available from the office. Remote access to these services may be available, but it is not always reliable. Or, the remote access procedures may be lengthy or require a forgotten password. If just a few articles on a popular topic are needed, FindArticles may well fit the bill and provide answers more quickly and easily than negotiating the remote access option. In addition, if the subscription databases suddenly become unavailable due to network problems on their end or even just because of quirky Internet connections, the two Web freebies can substitute for at least a little while.
FindArticles also can be useful when making links to articles on your own Web pages. Linking to an article using a URL pointing to a subscription database is only useful to others with access to the same database, and not even then will the URL always work. If the same article can be found at FindArticles, the link should work for anyone on the Web.
Even those with subscription access to larger databases should check out MagPortal at least once in awhile. Although its database is small, it can find quality content unavailable either from other Web search tools or from even the largest subscription databases.
With both of these tools, take time to browse their title lists once in awhile to see what sources are offered. Run a couple of searches just to keep familiar with their offerings and search capabilities. You never know when either one may turn out to be the perfect source for the questions of the day.
Greg R. Notess (email@example.com; www.notess.com/) is a reference librarian at Montana State University and founder of SearchEngineShowdown.com.
Comments? Email the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.