Wednesday, April 05, 2006

"Survival of the fittest"

Péter Jacsó1, University of Hawaii -- The Endangered Database Species: Are the traditional *commercial* indexing/abstracting & full-text databases dead?

In a word -- no! Commercial A&I/F-T d/bs are not extinct ... yet.
Depends on habitat.

Indexing only d/bs -- near extinction
Most abstracting d/bs - endangered
Some full-text d/bs - vulnerable

Internal reasons for endangered/vulnerable status --

  • Stagnation e.g. British Education Index on Dialog: its focus is British Education system, but there are more relevant records in ERIC
  • Deflation e.g. Mental Health Abstracts -- journal source has been decimated over the last few years, and it became a waste of money to search it as more content was freely available in PubMed
  • Staleness e.g. GeoArchive -- only 2 updates in 2005. Geobase and GeoRef updated twice a month -- search reveals an order of magnitude more records in the latter databases ... size *does* matter
  • Sloppy production e.g. MHA, Information Science Abstracts: no updates in last year. EBSCO have made LISTA d/b in which nearly all records have abstracts.
  • Flab vs muscle e.g. SportDiscus (prior to EBSCO acquisition) -- too much duplication, seemed big but flabby! And users are paying to access each record. Even Google could bypass the quality provided.
  • Self-destruction e.g. e-psyche. Promised us champagne; didn't even deliver beer. Despite backing of well-known industry veterans.
Peter's forensic evidence (screenshots of search results) available via a link within his presentation (which I'll link to at the UKSG site in due course).

External reasons for endangered/vulnerable status:
Open Access -- 100s of millions of OA indexing records; 10s of millions of OA abstract records (e.g. Medline), millions of free OA full text documents. Threat to full text databases on Dialog "which are as they were in 1976 .. and they are still pretty expensive".

A&I publishers in the triple whammy of commercial competitors + government competitors + smart individuals (who are federated searching OA databases and presenting results for no charge)
-- this is driving enhancements of competitive content
-- innovative hosting platforms e.g. CSA
-- appealing interfaces -- very important (students are spoiled by Ask, Yahoo etc)

An additional problem is self-delusion -- denial and PR-illusion by commercial companies. Databases relaunching themselves -- developments are "Emperor's New Clothes" (again, see links within presentation for examples).

Market is no longer willing to pay for access to A&I databases when the abstracts are freely available from publisher sites and "digital facilitators" -- metasearch engines can freely use the data.

Scirus & Google Scholar "get in the ring"
--Peter disputes Scirus' claim to contain solely scientific data
--Google is "deified" and its citation counts are "very off-base"

Many government databases have smarter software and even offer full text e.g. PLoS, TRIS Online, PubMedCentral, Agricola, NCJRS (which has the best phonetic searching -- Peter tells us he tested 18 misspellings of metaamphetamine [which may or may not be the correct spelling!])

Functionality has moved on in good ways -- no longer just links to the publisher site or the author's email -- now offering links to the references, to lists of other articles citing the current article (which demonstrates value of article)

HighWire's link menus for each article are state of the art e.g. links to ISI's "cited by" records (if the publisher has paid for the service)

Comparison to Dialog's "skeletal" database record; to EBSCO's (which has no abstract); to CSA's LISA (which has no onward links); "Haworth Press are 15 years behind state of the art" -- the cited references are "darn cold" and cannot be clicked on to link to the cited articles.

Users will look on the left and at the top of the screen -- that's where e.g. full text links from abstract records need to be.

Full text is the future; "survival of the fittest" -- those who don't adapt will not survive.

1 I had the pleasure of dining with Péter at the conference dinner on Monday, and am therefore able to advise anyone who wasn't sure that it's pronounced Yotcho (and it's Hungarian)

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