other day I had a depressing experience. A client called wanting a literature
search on a person's name. I've dealt with this client before, in fact
for many years, and I know that they usually want some dirt, if they can
get it. (The client works with litigators. You catch my drift.) With this
client, long experience has taught me to always get as much information
on the target as I can. In fact, with people searching, background checking
during the reference interview is always critical — spelling problems (James,
Jim, J., Jimbo,...) can get brutal. As usual, they gave me as much employment
and career information as they had on the target.
Well, I found a
fair amount doing precisely the kind of search that they wanted, namely,
a "media check," as they put it, actually a newspaper archive plus news
wire scan on Dialog and Lexis-Nexis and Factiva's Dow Jones Interactive.
As usual, it was very, very swift and rather expensive, though less so
on Factiva, of course, where I'm only paying for output, not searching.
However, experts tell me that the new Nexis.com service has a couple of
side doors that let one make out like the proverbial bandit with a few
clever twists. But that's another story for another issue.
The problem occurred
when I worried why one particular corporate connection never surfaced in
the results. So I dashed over to Dun and Bradstreet's Duns Market Identifiers
on Dialog (File 516). Now get this. I dialed in, Began 516, Expand-ed on
the name (NA=XXXX), scanned the results to find Zero/Nil/Nada/000 hits,
and Logged off.
Price? $2.98. That's
just 3 cents more than Factiva's Dow Jones Interactive charges for a single
full-text successful hit. Of course, it's a great deal less than Lexis-Nexis
would charge through its transactional, per-search statement charges. On
the other hand, once you get results from a search with Lexis-Nexis, you
can usually screen through the results with the session recorder working
and get minimal further charges. With the trick I've heard about on Nexis.com,
you can do at least as well there too. But that's still another story.
But $2.98 for NOTHING!
OK. I can hear the vendor arguments. "Nothing is an answer sometimes."
And they're right. In a very comprehensive database, such as D&B's
or the Dissertation Abstracts Index or Derwent's patent files, finding
nothing can be the answer. In the case of graduate students looking for
original dissertation topics or some inventor trying to verify the "novelty"
element in a patent search, nothing is not only an answer, it's the answer
they want. And the other argument: "Nothing or something. It still takes
tremendous machine resources." Yeah, yeah, yeah. It takes tremendous resources
to put a box of Corn Flakes on a shelf. That still doesn't mean I want
to pay for a semi.
$2.98 for NOTHING!
We are not amused.
We were even less amused when, after sharing our misery on a friendly collegial
listserv, one of those colleagues itemized how we could have done the search
for free on the Dun and Bradstreet site. AARRGGHH!! Why didn't I think
of that? Why? Because I was already locked in on commercial sources for
the newspaper searching, where the speed of archival searching is definitely
cost-effective. Even if I had slogged through all the newspaper archives
available, I would still have ended up back on the commercials for the
newspapers that didn't have archives on their Web sites or whose own Web
site archives didn't extend as far back as the commercial versions.
But there's another
reason, the one that explains the depression. I'm an old horse. Neigh.
Neigh. Clop. Clop. And I like to search the familiar sources the familiar
way. When guilt at abusing the client's wallet strikes, I can always use
the turnaround speed, thoroughness arguments, but sometimes they ring hollow.
They certainly didn't stand the clink-clunk test on that D&B search.
(RATS!!) Apparently not even the profit motive can move me away from the
rut I have dug myself into. Clearly, wandering around the Web might take
an hour or two, hours I could bill the client and pocket the earnings.
Great! Not just an old, dull horse, an old, dull, lazy horse. Maybe
I'm not an old horse. Maybe I'm an old jackass.
So what am I going
to do about it? Sit here and sulk. Lie here and suffer. Not my style! I'm
going to share my misery. Thin the gruel and pass it around.
Here comes a request,
a challenge, in fact. What this professional searcher — and lots of her
colleagues — need is someone to make this kind of problem go away. We all
hear — and this issue has several articles covering it — about the wonderful,
evolved powers of today's search engines, particularly those that grind
away at the Web and even try to pluck the veil from the "Invisible Web."
So here's the challenge.
I want a specialized search engine to climb over the barriers (registration,
fees, passwords, formatted question-taking screens, etc.) to conduct a
serial search of all the newspaper sites with archives. Throw in other
news media when you can. If necessary, I will pay a fixed fee for each
search — each successful search I mean — and then fees per article. If
possible, integrate the results by date, though that may require approval
by the publishers. You can even pass through ads for going to the original
site. In fact, you can add ads throughout the results. But, whatever you
do, no charges for nothing.
Oh, yes. After
you get that little chore done, let's talk about drilling down to archived
press releases on company sites. I tire of paying for the retrieval of
press releases from a database producer that was already paid by corporations
to transmit them as broadly as possible. Harumph.
About that newspaper
archive thing though. If you want to get a list of which newspapers have
archives available, start with the Special Libraries Association's News
Libraries Division collection at http://www.ibiblio.org/slanews/internet/archives.html.
But I imagine anyone interested in responding to my challenge already knows
that the only sensible way to start any complex information project is
by consulting one or more professional searchers.
By the way, for
some unimaginable reason, SLA's own Web site did not link to the News Division's
collection of wonderful resources, not to mention all their member services.
I had to find it through Yahoo!. That's another problem I would like fixed
— and FAST!!
You know, for some
reason, I feel a lot better. GIDDIUP!! Heigh-ho, Silver! Away!!