are many things I'm thankful for my health, my family, my new dog, my
job ... the list could go on and on. And when I think about the online
world, I thank whatever deities, fates, or karmic influences spared me
from having to figure out how to set prices for anything other than my
own time. I have talked with a number of information industry people about
pricing and have concluded that the basic problem is trying to figure out
the value of something that is neither strictly a product nor a service.
Sure, there are
a few surviving Web sites that provide a stripped-down version of document
retrieval services at no cost or for a minimal fee: ft.com, FindArticles.com,
Electric Library, and MagPortal come to mind. What most serious online
researchers want, though, is a combination of a high-quality product
a wide range of full-text information sources with a deep archive and
high-end services tools for building sophisticated searches, relevance
ranking of results, flexibility in output options, enterprise pricing,
etc. So they go to aggregators such as Dialog, Factiva, and LexisNexis,
all of which offer a wide range of content and a full-featured array of
sign up for a particular online service, they assume that they'll get fast
responses from their searches, virtually no down time, telephone customer
service 24/7, and free training. However, they don't necessarily assign
a monetary value to these services "of course you're going to
be constantly upgrading your servers and improving your search tools, but
why should I pay extra for what I take for granted?"
Add to this the
fact that any pricing plan by definition trains users in how to search.
If you're charged for connect time, you learn to think offline and type
fast. If you're charged only for output, you use that system for searches
in which zero hits tells you something valuable. If you're charged for
processing time, you shy away from using resource-intensive tools. This
isn't rocket science ... any animal trainer knows that you reward desired
behavior with treats and you punish unwanted behavior with negatives. Like
Pavlov's dogs, we searchers learn to use an online service a particular
way when rewarded with lower online bills. Over the course of the past
few years, it has been very interesting to watch Dialog's experimenting
with its pricing strategies and the resulting behavior of its subscribers.
Dialog's Pricing History in
Those of us long
in the tooth remember searching Dialog in the old days. It helped to be
a touch typist and upgrade as quickly as possible to faster modems, since
most of the cost of a Dialog search was the connect-time charge. The faster
you ran your search and logged off, the cheaper the search. Over the years,
Dialog tweaked the relative cost of connect time and output, moving from
an emphasis on the time spent online to the number of documents displayed.
In large part, this switch responded to the improvements in modem speed;
it's not too tough to figure out that your revenue is going to drop significantly
if your customers shift from 300-baud (30 characters per second) acoustic
couplers to 2400-baud (240 characters per second) modems.
Then things got
weird. In June 1998, with little warning and no prior training for its
customer support staff, Dialog rolled out DialUnits essentially a charge
for system processing cycles to replace the familiar connect-time charge.
This change, however poorly executed, was driven by the need to accommodate
the shift from searching via telnet and packet-switched networks (remember
Tymnet and Telenet?) to searching on the Web. In an HTTP environment, you
can't reliably calculate connect time, so Dialog decided to base the price
on something it could count how hard its computers worked. The
problem, of course, is that searchers had no idea how DialUnits were calculated
and it's impossible to audit DialUnits.
due to the hasty implementation of DUs, the result was that virtually all
searchers found that the cost to search Dialog had risen dramatically and
unpredictably. I compared the pre- and post-DU costs for a number of searches
and concluded that, well, we were getting shafted. A month later in July
1998, Dialog scrambled to correct some of the more egregious problems in
DU pricing, although the end result was still a 20-50 percent increase
in cost. For the blow-by-blow description, see my article "Dialog's DialUnits:
A Price Increase in Sheep's Clothing" (Searcher, September 1998,
Two months later,
Dialog announced another change in DialUnit pricing, this time eliminating
the policy of rounding up DialUnit charges to the next full unit and eliminating
DU charges for administrative commands such as Display Sets and HELP. The
end result was that costs dropped down to pre-DialUnit levels. For an analysis
of the impact of the September 1998 changes, see "Dialog's DialUnits Revisited:
Lassie Come Home" (Searcher, November/December 1998, http://www.infotoday.com/searcher/nov98/bates.htm).
In May 1999 I decided
to run all my test searches again. Imagine my surprise when I discovered
that searches were consistently incurring more DialUnits than they had
the prior year. After much hemming and hawing, Dialog executives admitted
that, yes, they had "revised the algorithm for calculating DialUnits."
Can you say "unannounced price increase"? I thought so. My third article
on Dialog's DialUnits, "Dialog's DialUnits: There Is a Great Disturbance
in the Force," appeared in Searcher, July/August 1999 [http://www.infotoday.com/searcher/jul99/bates.htm].
The only good news
in all of this was that in May 2000, Dialog was sold to The Thomson Corp.
The online search community grew cautiously optimistic to find Dialog once
again in the hands of management who knew and understood Dialog's core
Re-Connecting with Connect
2001. In June, Dialog announced that it was revising DialUnit pricing and
would introduce (or, more properly, re-introduce) a connect-time pricing
option. A sentence in the press release piqued my curiosity: "Currently,
when users execute the same search on different Dialog platforms (DialogClassic,
DialogClassic Web, and DialogWeb), results can vary, depending on how each
platform processes some of the commands." I went back and re-executed all
of my test searches and, sure enough, there were striking disparities in
cost. A chart showing the prices for identical searches in DialogWeb, DialogClassic
and DialogClassic Web appeared in an Information Today Inc. Newsbreak [http://www.infotoday.com/newsbreaks/nb010626-1.htm].
The revision of
the DU algorithm was completed in October 2001 and it did indeed smooth
out the differences in cost among the various platforms and virtually eliminated
the penalty of searching on DialogClassic. Connect-time pricing finally
rolled out in January 2002. In the meantime, Dialog also repackaged its
flagship content in a number of end-user-friendly products, including Dialog1,
Dialog Company Profiles, DialogSelect, and Dialog Open Access. All but
one of these are only accessible to existing Dialog customers. Dialog Open
Access is available to anyone with a credit card no subscription to Dialog
is required. The connect time vs. DialUnit pricing discussion does not
come into play here, since all of these products are entirely output-based.
So, how does connect-time
pricing work, now that it's finally rolled out and operational? Answer?
Pretty much like you'd expect. The meter starts running as soon as you
issue a Begin command. There are a few free files (although I use the word
"free" advisedly, since Dialog still charges $13 an hour for "Telecommunications/Internet
charges") the ONTAP training files, and most of the Dialog Finder files
(410, 413, 414, 415, 416). Beilstein Online (390) is also free of connect-time
or DialUnit costs, but output costs range from $10 to $300 per record.
Note that DIALINDEX (411) is not a free file in either pricing plan. It
costs $40/hour in the connect-time pricing and $1.75 per DialUnit.
In general, connect-time
pricing parallels DialUnit costs. With the exception of Beilstein Online,
which bases 100 percent of its charges on output, files that have higher
DU costs also have higher connect-time charges. A quick comparison of prices
shows the following rough correlation:
|A file with
charges of around:
Note that both
DialUnit and connect-time pricing still have separate charges for output.
The per-record charges are the same for both plans. And both plans impose
that silly $13/hour Telecommunications/Internet charge, so even DialUnit
pricing has a connect-time component.
What happens if
you search several files simultaneously with connect-time pricing? Say
you wanted to search INSPEC ($85/hour), NTIS ($75/hour) and Ei Compendex
($90/hour) will you be charged a total of $250/hour for the search? Thank
goodness, the answer is no. Instead, just as with DialUnit searching, the
connect time is split among the three files in proportion to the amount
of time spent in each file. The following is the logoff notice for a combined
search of files 2, 6, and 8. The total time spent running the search was
0.066 hours, but I was charged for 0.022 hours in file 2, 0.018 hours in
file 6 and 0.025 hours in file 8.
09jan02 11:05:38 User000000
$1.87 0.022 Hrs File2
$1.87 Estimated cost File2
$1.35 0.018 Hrs File6
$1.35 Estimated cost File6
$2.25 0.025 Hrs File8
$2.25 Estimated cost File8
OneSearch, 3 files,
0.066 Hrs FileOS
$6.26 Estimated cost this search
I was curious
to see if the breakout of time really did correlate to how much time was
spent in each file, so I ran the following OneSearch in an abstracts-only
file (ERIC) and a full-text file (Trade & Industry):
SYSTEM:OS - DIALOG OneSearch
File 1:ERIC 1966-2001/Dec 05
(c) format only 2001 The Dialog Corporation
File 148:Gale Group Trade & Industry DB 1976-2002/Jan 08
(c)2002 The Gale Group
Set Items Description
- - -
S1 317406 BOOK/TX
09jan02 10:57:10 User000000 Session D8470.4
$0.00 0.000 Hrs File1
$0.00 Estimated cost File1
$1.20 0.015 Hrs File148
$1.20 Estimated cost File148
OneSearch, 2 files,
0.016 Hrs FileOS
$1.39 Estimated cost this search
By limiting my
search to the TX field, which doesn't exist in ERIC, I ensured that the
search would only execute in Trade & Industry. Then I checked the cost
and, sure enough, all the connect time was allocated to the full-text file
and no time charged to ERIC. It warms my heart to see things work the way
What sets Dialog's
pricing plans apart is that you can toggle between the two plans almost
at will. Though you can't switch the pricing during a search, you can change
from one to the other at the end of one search session, log off and log
back on again to have the switch take effect. You determine which pricing
plan you want by adding or editing a line in your Profile SET CONNECT
ON for connect-time pricing and SET CONNECT OFF for DialUnit pricing. Note
that the default is DialUnit pricing, so if you haven't done anything,
that's what your pricing plan is now. [See the sidebar "Improving
Your Profile" for step-by-step instructions on creating and editing
OK, so you can't
change the pricing plan within a search session; you have to log
off and log back on for the change to take effect. Getting in touch with
my inner hacker, I thought I could get clever and do a complex search using
connect-time pricing (which would be cheaper than DialUnit pricing), KEEP
the records to Set 0, change my Profile to put me in DialUnit pricing,
issue a Logoff Hold command (which would retain my Kept records in Set
0), log back on with DialUnit pricing, and then print out the results (at
virtually no cost, since displaying records incurs connect-time charges
but almost no DialUnit costs). Alas, the Dialog programmers thought of
this hack first. When I did the Logoff Hold and then reconnected, I got
the following message:
SET CONNECT NOT EXECUTED
PRICING METHOD MUST BE THE SAME ON RECONNECT
Drat! Foiled again!
Each search has to be done using either connect-time or DialUnit pricing;
you can't mix and match.
For more information
on connect-time and DialUnit pricing, go to http://www.dialog.com/pricing.
This page includes links to a Connect Time Quick Reference report, a cheat-sheet
on how to edit your PROFILE and change from DialUnit to connect-time pricing,
price lists for connect time and DialUnits, and a FAQ on DialUnit pricing.
The Bates Pricing Tests
I first developed
a set of test searches back in May 1998, when Dialog announced the switch
from connect-time pricing to DialUnits. I tried to test as many different
aspects of Dialog searching as I could, including simple look-ups, resource-intensive
searches, multiple-file searches, document-delivery searches, sit-there-and-read-results
searches, and a few searches that I knew would give unpredictable results
(heh, heh, heh).
A number of people
at Dialog have told me that they have used these sample searches as they
modified the DU algorithm and developed the connect-time pricing. Too bad
I can't figure out a way to charge them BatesUnits for each use of the
A couple of notes
before we dive into the nitty-gritty of the results. I didn't include very
many output-heavy searches, since the cost of output has remained fairly
steady throughout Dialog's pricing changes, and since output costs should
be virtually the same under DialUnit and connect-time pricing. As noted
above, neither DialUnit nor connect-time pricing includes output costs,
and the per-record charges are the same regardless of which pricing plan
you use. I suppose that if you have a 2400-baud modem and you wanted to
capture to file a large number of records, you would see a slight increase
in cost under the connect-time plan, but the solution in this case is to
send the results to e-mail (type HELP EMAIL for instructions).
I conducted the
searches using a DSL line; again, if you use a slow modem or if you type
very slowly, you may notice slightly higher connect-time charges, but I
don't believe that the difference will be significant. According to Dialog,
a majority of their usage is now on the Web, so I assume that most people
have a fast connection. (And if you still use a 2400-baud modem to search
Dialog on the Web rather than via telnet, you're a glutton for punishment.)
of you who have followed the Dialog pricing saga since 1998 will notice
that in order to better test how DialUnit pricing works in the real world
and to eliminate multiple searches that tested virtually the same feature,
I have changed a couple of the searches slightly over the years. Since
connect-time pricing is time-sensitive, I included some browse-time
in some of the searches, to calculate the impact of reading time as well
as searching. Table 1 shows the 20 searches
and how much each search costs using six different scenarios the search
on DialogWeb, DialogClassic (via telnet), and DialogClassic Web with DialUnit
pricing and then a repeat on all the same platforms with connect-time pricing.
These searches were done in early January 2002. According to a letter sent
to Dialog subscribers, Dialog will be imposing a 10 percent surcharge on
DialUnit pricing for DialogClassic (via telnet) searches beginning February
2002. To factor that in, I have calculated the cost with the 10 percent
DU surcharge for the DialogClassic DialUnit pricing column. (See the sidebar
"Pricing Ch-Ch-Changes" for the details of all the changes in fees.)
So, let's go through
the results, a search at a time.
Looking at Table
2 the first search strategy is straightforward: no heavy-duty CPU
search, no time-consuming output. As expected, the cost under DialUnits
was pretty consistent across platforms. However, the cost under connect-time
pricing varied more than I would have expected. Why the noticeably higher
cost for DialogClassic? Behind the scenes, Dialog executes a FileHold command
with DialogWeb under connect-time pricing. FileHold is similar to PAUSE,
that wonderful command that turns the connect-time meter down to $30/hour
while you sit and think. Given the vagaries of the Web, Dialog decided
to insert a FileHold each time it sits and waits for another command during
a DialogWeb search. Note that this FileHold isn't applied during DialogClassic
or DialogClassic Web, because of the way in which users connect to Dialog.
However, you can type a PAUSE command if you're in connect-time pricing,
thus turning down the connect-time rate while you read output, check with
a patron, answer the phone, and so on.
Not much of a difference in cost between the two pricing plans for a simple
Search 2 (see Table
3) is a multi-file search and includes some CPU-heavy commands.
The limit s1/1997:2001 command is a killer; regardless of the size of the
LIMITed set, Dialog still looks for all records from years 1997 through
2001 and then compares that set to the LIMITed set. DialUnit and connect-time
costs were similar across platforms, and connect-time pricing was consistently
less than DialUnit pricing. The different here was that a complex search,
executed in several files, tends to use more processing power than a simple
search. Combine that with the ability to turn off the connect-time meter
with the PAUSE command, and this is a search tailor-made for connect-time
Resource-intensive searches are cheaper on connect-time pricing, particularly
if you use PAUSE or DialogWeb's FileHold to limit the connect-time charges
while reading search results.
Search 3 (see Table
4) is a quick look-up search, which turned up no records. As any
searcher knows, sometimes "0 hits" tells you exactly what you need to know.
The cost was about a third higher under the connect-time pricing, probably
because the search required minimal CPU processing.
With quick simple searches, you may not save anything with connect-time
Search 4 (see Table
5) is designed to see how much you're penalized for typos and to
see the relative cost for a simple company look-up. The cost is less with
connect-time pricing, although not significantly. Since format 9 in file
516 costs $3.89, most of the expense comes from output charges rather than
either DialUnits or connect time. In this type of search, I would look
at the relative cost of DialUnits vs. connect time. As noted in my rough
comparison above, if the connect-time charge is $100/hour, then DialUnits
usually run about $6 each. For file 516, though, the DialUnit cost is relatively
high compared to connect time $9.25/DialUnit and $100/hour connect time.
As a result, a DU search will likely be more expensive than a connect-time
search, particularly for straightforward searches.
For simple searches, compare DialUnit and connect-time costs. If a particular
file weights one pricing plan higher than the other, switch accordingly.
In Search 5 (see
6), connect time wins hands down. Because of behind-the-scenes
processing, using the Report/Titles command in any of the market research
files is a very CPU-heavy search. (Side note to Dialog: Don't make it expensive
to search for market research reports. Searchers know that they can go
to other sources such as MarketResearch.com and search for free.) Anyway,
if you use any market research files, definitely choose connect-time rather
than DialUnit pricing.
Search market research files using connect-time pricing.
Search 6 (see Table
7) looks at the cost for using a couple of CPU-heavy commands
SORT and REPORT. As in search #4, most of the cost was in output; in this
search, the Report output costs $9. If you eliminate the output costs from
the price, you see that the search cost is significantly higher with DialUnit
pricing (roughly $4) than with connect time (roughly $1.50).
Searches that require SORT and REPORT should be done using connect-time
Search 7 (see Table
8) also makes use of Dialog's power tools LIMIT and Remove Duplicates.
It also uses the PAUSE command which, as in Search #2, mitigates the connect-time
charges. (Without the PAUSE command, the cost for DialogClassic with connect
time would have been $5.99 big difference!)
Power-tool searches should be done in connect time; remember to use the
PAUSE command if you spend time reviewing output.
Search 8 (see Table
9) is of one of the highest-priced files, the Derwent World Patents
Index file. Connect time is $291.50/hour; DialUnits cost $25.89 each. (Note
to self: Make sure you don't BEGIN a search in 351 by mistake!) This search
is expensive any way you run it, but a lot less expensive if you know what
you're doing and can go in and out quickly. The difference in price between
DialUnit and connect-time pricing is enormous; this is one of those times
when you'd just be handing free money to Dialog if you run the search under
the DialUnit plan. Note too that the penalty for searching DialogClassic
with DialUnits is quite pronounced in this search $53.78 on DialogClassic
as opposed to $38.22 on DialogWeb. Ouch!
The more expensive the file, the better off you are going with connect-time
pricing, particularly if you can search efficiently.
Search 9 (see Table
10) tests one of the lesser-known search functions of Dialog
the Target command. It's a kind of fuzzy-logic search that provides relevance-ranked
output. [Type HELP TARGET to get more information on how this command works.]
Note the enormous difference in cost between DialUnit and connect-time
pricing. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that one should never
use the Target command under DialUnit pricing. Note too the difference
in connect-time pricing between DialogWeb and DialogClassic. Apparently
the large price difference is a function of the automatic application of
the FileHold command in DialogWeb.
For Target searches, always use connect-time pricing.
I developed Search
10 (see Table 11) during the early days of
DialUnit pricing, when ADDing files to a search caused an automatic rounding
up of DialUnits and, hence, a big cost increase. The ADD command still
carries some DialUnit "overhead" that you don't have under connect-time
pricing, hence, the significant cost savings by running this search under
connect-time pricing rather than DialUnits.
If you think you might need to ADD files to a search, use connect-time
I'll admit that
MAP is not a command I use every day. In fact, if I think I will need to
use it, I'll call the Dialog Knowledge Center and ask them to walk me through
the steps. Searches 11 and 12 (see Table 12)
use some expensive files CHEMNAME (file 301) is $275/hour or $31.25/DialUnit,
CA SEARCH (file 399) is $180/hour or $12.55/DialUnit, and IMSWorld R&D
Focus (file 445) is $150/hour or $15.25/DialUnit along with the resource-intensive
command MAP. These searches won't be cheap, regardless of the pricing plan.
But, again, focused searches in which I knew what commands to type turned
out noticeably cheaper under the connect-time plan. Search #11 shows relative
costs that include no output costs, so demonstrate the "pure" processing
costs. Search #12 includes output, but the cost difference is still notable.
With expensive files and resource-intensive searches, plan ahead and the
search will be cheaper with connect-time pricing.
In Search 13 (see
13) I'm showing the results based on faith. When I ran the search
in January 2002, file 414 was free of connect-time costs but incurred DialUnits
of $1.25 each. The DialUnit versions of this search cost $0.62, $0.71,
and $0.63 respectively. However, Dialog announced that, effective February
1, 2002, there would be no DialUnit charges for file 414, so the only cost
using either DialUnit or connect-time pricing is the silly "telecommunications/Internet
charge" of $13/hour or, in this case, 19¢ across the board.
Free files are uniformly not quite free.
Searches 14, 15,
and 16 (see Table 14) test whether administrative
commands that are supposed to be free of DialUnit charges are truly free.
According to the DialUnit FAQ [http://products.dialog.com/products/dialog/price_list/pricing_faqs.html]:
The following administrative
commands those used for basic maintenance functions do not generate
My experience has
shown that all of these commands still do incur DialUnits in DialogWeb,
contrary to Dialog's statements that they don't. Brian Holland, Dialog's
Senior Vice President, Strategic Pricing, has assured me that this is simply
a programming error that will be corrected forthwith. I'm noting it here
because this has been a known and uncorrected problem for years, so it's
one correction I'll believe when I see it.
EDIT Includes commands
used within the online editor: CHANGE, COPY, DELETE, INSERT, LIST, MOVE,
QUERY, QUIT, RENUM, and SAVE. Also includes other EDIT commands, such as
EDIT EMAIL and EDIT ADDRESS.
HELP All HELP commands,
including HELP RATES and HELP FORMATS
LOGOFF Also includes
the LOGOFF HOLD command.
RECALL All RECALL
commands, such as RECALL ALERT, RECALL ADDRESS, RECALL.
RELEASE All RELEASE
commands, such as releasing SearchSaves or Alerts.
SAVE All SAVE commands,
such as SAVE ALERT, SAVE and SAVE TEMP.
SET All SET commands,
such as SET ALIAS, SET NOTIFY, and SET SUBACCT.
SHOW All SHOW commands,
such as SHOW FILES. All other commands generate DialUnits based on the
amount of system resources used to execute the command.
The examples given
here show the discrepancy between DialogWeb DialUnit pricing, in which
commands, even those that are supposed to be free, incur DialUnits, and
DialogClassic and DialogClassic Web DialUnit pricing, in which the administrative
commands really are free.
Note that Dialog
doesn't claim that the BEGIN command is free; in fact, it does incur a
DialUnit charge of 0.065 DialUnits. That's not much in most files, but
you would notice the "hit" if you accidentally Began an expensive file.
For example, if I intended to type b 30 and instead typed b 130, it would
cost me $1.75.
14jan02 11:40:37 User000000 Session D8504.2
$0.23 0.064 DialUnits File1
$0.23 Estimated cost File1
$0.25 Estimated cost this search
$0.25 Estimated total session cost 0.272 DialUnits
File 130:PHIND(Daily & Current) 2002/Jan 14
(c) 2002 PJB Publications, Ltd.
Set Items Description
- - -
14jan02 11:40:39 User000000 Session D8504.3
$1.75 0.064 DialUnits File130
$1.75 Estimated cost File130
$1.75 Estimated cost this search
$2.00 Estimated total session cost 0.336 DialUnits
File 30:AsiaPacific 1985-2002/Jan 10
(c) 2002 Aristarchus Knowledge Indus.
Set Items Description
- - -
For this reason,
each of the sample searches has a small "overhead" DialUnit charge, since
I had to issue the Begin command before doing anything else. However, there
should never be more than the 0.065 DialUnit cost if the only commands
you type are the administrative commands listed above.
You'll always incur some DialUnit cost when you move from file to file;
I trust that by the time you read this, we won't be charged for other administrative
commands while on DialogWeb.
Search 17 (see
15) is a plain old document delivery search log on, find the
article, print it, logoff. A document in format 9 in file 484 costs $3.20.
Do the math and you'll notice that you pay quite a bit more for the delivery
of the document with DialUnits than with connect-time pricing, depending
on which platform you use. Your cheapest option is DialogWeb with connect-time
pricing (overhead cost of only 51¢); your most expensive option is
DialogClassic with DialUnit pricing (overhead cost of $1.79). This reflects
a general pattern that DialogWeb is the least-expensive platform and DialogClassic
the most expensive.
When you do a straight document delivery search, use DialogWeb and connect-time
Search 18 (see
16) attempts to replicate an info pro doing a relatively simple
search for a client, providing a list of titles to the client, and then
logging back on to retrieve the full records of the documents selected
by the client. In the early days of DialUnits, when DUs were rounded up
to the next full unit, this was absurdly expensive. Now that we have fractional
DUs, the cost is just about the same under DialUnit and connect-time pricing.
For intermediary searches in which the searcher downloads titles and then
logs back on to retrieve individual records, there's no real difference
I added these last
two searches (see Table 17) to test the difference
in cost between DialUnit and connect-time pricing in an output-heavy search.
For some searchers, this is what most of our research looks like you
know what you're looking for, you go in and find it, you print out a bunch
of records, you're done.
Search 19 is executed
in the OneSearch collection of newspapers and is pretty straightforward.
Search 20 was written to incur some CPU processing time with those LIMITs.
Note that I used the PAUSE command in the DialogClassic connect-time searches
to cut down on the total amount of connect-time charges. Since format 9
records in file 88 cost $3.25 each (or a total of $81.25 in this search),
if you just look at the search charge, the difference in cost is significant.
Again, the most expensive search is DialogClassic on DialUnits ($12.76
in "overhead"), the cheapest is DialogWeb on connect-time ($2.08 in "overhead").
With a straightforward search when you expect to print a large number of
records, the cost will be pretty similar whether you use DialUnits or connect
time, but you may be penalized for using DialUnits on DialogClassic.
Which Is Better?
Let me talk about
taxicabs for a moment. Here in Washington, D.C., cabs don't have meters.
Instead, they use a geographic zone system to determine the fare if you
catch a cab in one zone and your destination lies within that zone, you
pay $5; ride from one zone to an adjoining zone and it's $6.90; move through
three zones and it's $8.60, and so on. One of the arguments for this system
is that it prevents unscrupulous cab drivers from taking unsuspecting tourists
on the "scenic" route to their destination in order to increase the metered
fare. (Just ask me about my $15 cab ride from the Philadelphia train station
to a hotel that turned out to be only eight blocks away....) It also, conveniently,
ensures that congressional staff can catch a cab from Capitol Hill to downtown
for $5. On the other hand, if you happen to catch a cab at the edge of
one zone, you'll pay $1.90 more than if you'd caught the cab a block away.
DC natives like the zone system because they know how it works and know
how much a trip will cost, but they also know that short-haul trips cost
more than they would under a meter system. The bottom line, of course,
is that there probably wouldn't be any net change in the total cost of
taking cabs if we switched from zones to meters.
In some perverse
way, Dialog pricing reminds me of DC cabs (although at least Dialog doesn't
have bone-jarring shock absorbers and we get to choose whether we want
zones or meters). For Dialog natives, connect-time pricing amounts to a
price decrease, and a fairly significant one depending on your search habits.
In my tests, I found no example of when a search would have been
significantly less expensive under the DialUnit pricing, whereas a number
of searches were dramatically cheaper with connect-time pricing. (See,
for example, searches 2, 5, 7, 8, 9 and 10.)
If Dialog isn't
a system you use much, and you are often stumped when doing a search
stopping to dig up a Bluesheet, pondering why you just got an error message,
or mulling over the idea of ADDing a file to your search then DialUnits
might save you a little money. However, I still think that judicious use
of the PAUSE command (or searching on DialogWeb, which initiates a FileHold
in the background between each command) would keep connect-time costs reasonable.
The other important
factor for determining whether you should switch to connect time is how
you relate to the ticking clock. Those of us who cut our teeth on Dialog
searches back when most of the cost of a search came from the connect-time
charge learned to plan our searches ahead of time, look up tricky commands,
figure out what prefixes to use in advance, and so on. Then we logged on,
ran our search, and logged off quickly. Some folks, though, never get over
worrying about how long they're on and that every minute is COSTING THEM
MONEY, ACK! If you're one of those people, DialUnits are for you. You'll
pay a bit more, but your searches will probably be better because you're
not spending the entire time stressed out about the meter running. However,
you're still much better off switching to connect-time pricing for those
searches that are dramatically less expensive under the connect-time option,
such as market research file searches and searches that you know ahead
of time will require a lot of CPU processing. In those situations, plan
ahead, unplug your phone, take a few deep breaths, and then just do the
search using connect-time pricing.
Likewise, if you're
the kind of person who can get distracted easily or you're in an environment
with a lot of unavoidable distractions you'll have to either remember
to PAUSE each time you're interrupted or switch to DialUnit pricing, which
doesn't penalize you for sitting online doing nothing.
I was somewhat
intrigued by my own reaction to the difference in "feel" of a DialUnit
search vs. a connect-time search. Having just completed the test searches
for this article and concluding that most experienced searchers should
switch to connect-time pricing, I settled down to do some real-live research
for a client. It was a project that had five or six different concepts
that would require some mix-and-matching. I also wanted to try limiting
each concept to just the title and descriptor fields, and so on. I decided
to try the searches out in an ONTAP version of one of the files I planned
to search; this would not only let me see the relative number of hits with
various strategies, but also let me type in my search strategy for free,
since I was using connect-time pricing. Once I moved the search over to
the regular files, I did have that momentary stomach-twinge... . "Quick,
think fast, don't just sit there, do something!" I got over it in a minute,
once I realized that my entire search wouldn't take more than 10 or 15
minutes, and so the total connect-time charges wouldn't amount to more
than $10 or $15 a small fraction of the total cost, once I included the
cost for all the downloaded articles.
I'm glad I switched
to connect-time pricing as my default. I no longer hesitate before using
power search tools such as Remove Duplicates, SORT, and REPORT because
I know that these tools will only cost me pennies rather than dollars.
And I like knowing that I can calculate the total cost by just watching
the clock rather than trying to read the tea leaves or chicken entrails
or whatever it is that happens behind the scenes in calculating DialUnits.
I suspect that most Searcher readers will conclude the same.
|Improving Your Profile
Every time you
log onto Dialog, it checks to see if you have a Profile set up; this saved
file lets you set a number of options for your search. It's a nifty tool
for personalizing your Dialog experience you can create customized output
formats, change the way search terms are highlighted in your output, require
that users provide subaccount information before searching, and so on.
For loads of information on what you can do with Profile, download the
80-page misnamed Pocket Guide from http://library.dialog.com/pocketguide
(misnamed because there's no way it'll fit in anyone's pocket) and go to
the section on SET commands, which explains all the commands available
for your Profile.
If you just want
to change your pricing from DialUnits to connect time, though, here's the
Start in one of
the free files (any ONTAP file, or file 410, 413, 414, 415 or 416).
First, check to
see if you already have a Profile:
If Dialog responds:
>>>No PROFILE exists, then do the following steps:
Total lines: 0
Line increment: 10
Last line: 0
?set connect on
the enter key]
Returning to EDIT mode
Exit from editor
If, when you type
recall profile, Dialog responds with a numbered list of commands such as:
1. SET NOTICE $1000
2. SET HILIGHT ON
then perform the
following steps to add a line to set your preference from DialUnits (the
default) to connect-time pricing:
Total lines: 2
Line increment: 10
Last line: 20
?set connect on[if
you want to have the default to DialUnits, you'd type SET CONNECT OFF
the enter key]
Returning to EDIT mode
>Replace "PROFILE"? ( Y = Yes N = No )
Exit from editor
As you can probably
guess, SET CONNECT ON changes your pricing to connect-time and SET CONNECT
OFF changes your pricing plan to DialUnits. Remember that you have to log
off after editing the Profile and log back on for the change to take effect.
Dialog sent out
a letter to all subscribers in January, alerting them to changes in its
fees for Dialog, DataStar, and Profound. Here's the good news and the bad
Elimination of the
$75/month minimum fee for Dialog
Elimination of DialUnit
charges for most "Finder" files on Dialog
New upgrade for DialogLink
software some time in 2002
New training manuals
some time in 2002
The last of these
items gets me steamed; why is DialogClassic the telnet version that we
old codgers know and love targeted for a 10 percent surcharge? Dialog
claims that it's because DialogClassic costs significantly more to maintain,
so this is a way to allocate those costs directly to users and that the
price differential will increase over time. My response is that there are
of variables in Dialog costs, and you deal with them by factoring them
all into your pricing rather than imposing surcharges on one pricing plan
on one platform. I mean really if I follow this logic, users like me
who never call the Knowledge Center should get a discount because we don't
require much telephone help, right?
Increase in Dialog
and DataStar annual services fee (doubling in the case of DataStar)
Increase in DialUnit
cost for DialIndex
Increase of telecommunications
charge from $12 to $13/hour on Dialog
Across the board 6.5
percent increase in output charges (for Dialog, DataStar, and Profound)
Increase in most connect-time
charges on DataStar
Ten percent surcharge
for DialogClassic DialUnit searches
|Supersearcher Tips for the
Brave New World
that you have to log off and log back on after changing your profile
between connect-time and DialUnit pricing. You can't switch between the
two pricing plans during a single session.
general, DialogWeb is the least-expensive platform and DialogClassic the
most expensive. This pricing disparity is bound to increase, so get used
to searching on DialogWeb.
pricing in OneSearches is allocated across files (in both DialUnit and
connect-time pricing), open the least expensive file first. This doesn't
make an enormous difference, but it can cut the cost by a bit.
before you search. If you're going to do a simple search with a patron
sitting at your side reading everything, you may want to switch to DialUnits.
Conversely, if you are going to do a complex search, making use of Dialog's
power tools, set your pricing to connect time.
is your friend! If you're on connect-time pricing, remember to use the
PAUSE command whenever you review output or stop to think. Note, though,
that PAUSE only works for 10 minutes. After that, Dialog assumes that you've
abandoned the search and will disconnect you.
more expensive the file, the more likely that you'll save money with connect-time
a list of the files you search regularly and compare DialUnit and connect-time
prices to make sure the prices are comparable. If it turns out that your
"regular suspects" have anomalous pricing, go with whatever is cheaper.
A very rough rule of thumb is if DUs for a particular file cost about $6,
then connect time should be around $80; files that charge $4 per DU usually
cost $40 for connect time.
in the habit of noticing what pricing plan you're on each time you log
on. DialogWeb doesn't tell you, so click the [Cost] icon to see whether
you're being charged DialUnits or connect time. On DialogClassic and DialogClassic
Web, you'll see the notice, "Cost is in DialUnits" or, "Cost is in Connect
Hours" when you first log on.
your habits. If the phone rings and you're likely to forget that you're
logged on, stick to DialUnit pricing.
you're going to build a complex search with a lot of search terms, set
your account to connect-time pricing, go into a free file, type in your
search strategy, SAVETEMP it, then execute it in the expensive files.
forget to logoff when you're finished your search, particularly if you
use connect-time pricing. You'll incur 10 minutes of connect-time before
Dialog finally kicks you off, and that can add up if you wander off in
the middle of an expensive file.