Welcome to Online Insider ...
... the editorial blog by Marydee Ojala, Editor of ONLINE: Exploring Technology & Resources for Information Professionals. ONLINE Insider intends to extend the reach of the print publication, presenting a more timely commentary on the products, people, and events that shape today's online world. It explores new technologies as they impact the working lives of information professionals, explains resources for specific topic areas, and expounds on information management tools and techniques.

Reinventing Dialog

Marydee Ojala @ 8:43 am

The NewsBreak I wrote about ProQuest giving Dialog a makeover was published earlier this week (23rd of July, to be precise). I wish I could have covered all the technological aspects of PQD (ProQuest Dialog), but that probably would have bored everybody to death. When I was first introduced to Dialog, which was in the Dark Ages of 1976 or 1977, I spent a day and a half in Palo Alto for the initial training sessions. I can’t imagine information professionals — or anyone else, for that matter — giving up that much time to learn a search engine.

Today’s expectations are that search happens quickly, without much thought or effort. What PQD offers is a somewhat different twist on those expectations. Yes, you can do the proverbial “quick and dirty” search. It will work. Careful information professionals, however, will benefit from studying how to effectively use all the bells and whistles PQD has baked into the new system.

Technology is great, but without sufficient content, it’s an empty vessel. Dialog has told us it won’t contain the corporate directory files, the market research databases (no great loss, as they were mostly closed files), and trademarks. It doesn’t mention EconLit, TableBase, LISA, and other files that don’t seem to have made the cut. If your favorite database is not present in PQD, please let me know. Since ProQuest, so far, declines to provide us with a comprehensive list of databases not transferring to PQD from legacy Dialog, it’s up to the users of the system to fill this gap.

Additionally, let’s tell ProQuest what other content should be in the “reinvented” Dialog. What information sources did they never had that they could now add?

I look forward to your suggestions on legacy databases not in PQD and on new databases PQD could add.

Don’t I Know Your Name?

Marydee Ojala @ 11:40 am

I received an email from a British librarian asking for a copy of an article I once wrote with the title “Best of British: British Information Online.” I remembered writing it — and I remember I wrote it rather a long time ago — but I could remember neither the exact date of publication nor which journal published it.

As a good online researcher, I turned to traditional fee-based databases to nudge my memory. I figured that if the British librarian couldn’t find the citation, he’d probably already Googled it, so I didn’t bother. Turns out I wrote it for Database in 1988.

I learned 2 things from my little search. First, almost every information source I discussed no longer exists. The exception is Companies House, which remains the repository for financial regulatory filings for UK companies. Ah, the ever-changing world of online!

Second is that ProQuest has a bit of a problem with journal title changes. Database changed it name to EContent in 1999. It is indexed and abstracted by EBSCO, ProQuest, and WilsonWeb, among others. Most duly note the title change and my 1988 article is ascribed to Database, not EContent. But ProQuest’s ABI/INFORM Complete apparently did a global term replacement on the journal title, so my article is cited as appearing in EContent, even though it was published 11 years before the title change. The analogy that springs to mind is Jane Jones marrying John Doe. If she takes his name, she becomes Jane Doe on her wedding day, but ProQuest assumes she was born Jane Doe. One wonders what Jane Jones’ parents make of this.

Here’s another quirk: When I looked for Best of British in ProQuest Dialog’s File 15 (ABI/INFORM), the database gives the citation, correctly, as Database.

ProQuest get the names of Database and EContent confused — and it’s own ABI/INFORM has internal differences even though the databases have the same name.

Luckily I’m at the Online Information conference this week, so will have the chance to ask them about this in person.

ProQuest Adds Expert Information

Marydee Ojala @ 2:07 pm

ProQuest has just announced its acquisition of U.K.-based Expert Information, publishers of Index to Theses and Theses.com. Expert Information was founded in 1986 by Monty Hyams (founder of Derwent and “father of the patent family”) and Roger Bilboul (Chairman of the Board of Information Today).

The theses properties of Expert Information contain half a million citations and abstracts for British and Irish dissertations and master’s theses. They span 70 years and add about 20,000 records per year.

This certainly fits well with ProQuest’s dissertation publishing program. Remember, ProQuest evolved out of University Microfilms, which had dissertations as a major part of its business. ProQuest’s Dissertations & Theses is designated by the Library of Congress as the official archive of American dissertations and includes almost all North American dissertations. ProQuest was already a distributor of the Expert Information databases, under the title PQDT: U.K. & Ireland.

It’s good to see positive international growth in ProQuest’s electronic dissertation publishing endeavors.

Artful Dodges

Marydee Ojala @ 2:48 pm

Looks like the International Bibliography of Art (IBA) has dodged a bullet, thanks to ProQuest. Getty’s intent had been to discontinue its support of the database due to budget problems. Now ProQuest says it will take over the indexing function and put the database (2008 -2009) on the CSA Illumina platform and will begin bringing the file up to date. ProQuest also hopes to expand geographic coverage to Asian, Latin American, and African art.

I’m no art historian nor have I ever done research on art topics, but having ProQuest rescue this database makes me feel good. I do, however, find it troubling to realize that even so estimable an institution as the Getty faces money shortages. What Getty has done, to its credit, is place the Bibliography of the History of Art, the predecessor to IBA, on its library website as a searchable database.

Apparently this will remain as is, but newer records will appear in the ProQuest version.

SLA in the Big Easy

Marydee Ojala @ 9:11 am

SLA (aka Special Libraries Association) is holding its 101st annual conference in New Orleans. Attendance is nowhere near the numbers we saw in Washington DC, which will have some serious impacts on the financial condition of the association. We’ll hear more about that at the annual business meeting this afternoon.

It’s a shame, really, because SLA members who are here are learning a lot and the exhibitors had so much to demonstrate. From the still-warm beignets at the Financial Times booth (fresh every day from Cafe du Monde!) to Factiva‘s “Factinis” (in a breathtaking shade of blue), exhibitors did their level best to entice SLA conference goers into their booths. The FT has a iPad version that is fascinating–and has just (on June 8th) won a design award from Apple for the app. This is a major accomplishment, as there were only 5 winners worldwide. Congrats, pink paper!

As for buzz at SLA, I’d have to say it was around platforms. Many vendors were showing either a new platform or a prototype for a new platform. Ovid has one, Dialog has one almost completed, and ProQuest‘s will follow Dialog’s.

Factiva has added many new sources and plans to expand its language capabilities from the 23 it presently has. Westlaw was showing its Westlaw Next product (reviewed by Amy Affelt in the May/June 2010 issue of ONLINE) and LexisNexis is rolling out its new Academic interface.

I could go on and on, detailing all the interesting and innovative products on display at SLA, but that laundry list would probably bore everybody to tears. The advantage to conferences like this one is the opportunity to see all these vendors in one place, be introduced to features and products with which you’re unfamiliar, get to know the people at the companies (which really gives you an edge in contract negotiation), and update yourself on what’s new that will benefit you and the organization you work for.

The exhibit hall closed yesterday but today there are still sessions, plus the annual business meeting and closing keynote by Nicholas Carr.

Dialog Sold Again, This Time to ProQuest

Marydee Ojala @ 3:57 pm

You’ve got to feel sorry for long-time Dialog employees. They’ve had multiple changes in ownership. Some owners have been better than others. The latest, announced today, is ProQuest, which agreed to acquire the business from the Science division of Thomson Reuters. OK, I’ll admit to mixed feelings about all of this. I cut my online teeth on Dialog, back when it only had a few files. It was a Lockheed venture back then. It had this techy feel to it. I liked the way I could manipulate data, construct complex search strategies, and really get the information to do what I wanted it to do. It’s the command and control thing. I enjoyed understanding how it all worked. I liked the notion of technological transparency. Web search engines aren’t transparent, they don’t want you to know how they come up with results, and they aren’t targeting information professionals as their main user group.

Then Lockheed sold Dialog to Knight-Ridder. Goody, I thought, we’ll get some newspaper people in here who understand information and believe that information is meant to be published and shared. Lockheed, after all, was primarily a defence company and some of its philosophy didn’t correlate with Dialog’s. My belief is that Knight-Ridder could have done a lot more for Dialog than it did. Why it didn’t I will leave to someone else to explain.

Then Knight-Ridder sold Dialog to M.A.I.D, a London-based company that promptly renamed itself The Dialog Corporation. Again, I was encouraged that this company actually understood information, having created a well-respected (though pricey) market research database. Antagonism between top management and customers, some pricing missteps, and cultural differences maid the acquisition less than the success M.A.I.D anticipated. Financing was another issue that dogged the new company.

Next step in the acquisition trail was the sale of Dialog to Thomson. Now, I come from a financial services background. My initial use of Dialog was in that context. I’ve always thought of Dialog as a business resource. However, I realize that information professionals in other industries relied upon Dialog for scientific, technical, and medical information. Humanities and social sciences were also part of the original offerings of Dialog. Legal information was never a strong area for Dialog. I expected Dialog to join Thomson as part of its Finance division. Thomson put it under its Scientific division. It then split off the M.A.I.D-conceived products and put them into the Legal division (read West). When that happened, it became clear to me that Dialog was no longer a company; it was a product line of Thomson Scientific.

Not to put down Thomson Scientific, for I think much of what they do is admirable, but Dialog wasn’t the best of fits. It was too eclectic and not scientific enough. Sure, it’s got some science data. In fact, it’s got some of the same data that Scientific puts into other product lines, just packaged differently. The emphasis on business, humanities and social sciences began to fade. Dialog’s technical platform didn’t progress much. Dialog Classic looks pretty much as it did when I first learned the Dialog command language.

So I probably wasn’t the only one to notice that Dialog was looking a whole lot like the unwanted stepchild of Thomson. And Thomson was distracted buying Reuters, a huge, major acquisition, which makes all of the Dialog ownership changes look like small potatoes. ProQuest undoubtedly noticed this as well. Hence their agreement to acquire Dialog.

Here’s the good part: Dialog now has an owner solidly and completely and competently in the information business. ProQuest has the same market  as Dialog’s–libraries. Maybe ProQuest, itself the result of the purchase of the original ProQuest by Cambridge Information Group, can restore Dialog to its former glory. But it certainly won’t make Dialog a company; it will remain a product line, in all probability.

Is there a bad part? I don’t know. There are real technical deficiencies. Dialog is nowhere near looking like a 2.0 platform. It desperately needs to be brought into the 21st century. Will ProQuest keep the Quantum program? I hope so, as it’s one of the best things Dialog does. Part of the agreement is that the Thomson Reuters content will continue to flow through Dialog. These are some major databases: Investext, World Patents Index, SciSearch and Social SciSearch, BIOSIS, and TrademarkScan. Obviously, the CSA databases will remain or be added back, depending on the status of the files. But what about other content on Dialog? Is the entire notion of "one stop shopping" for search obsolete in the professional search environment? Has web search taken over that moniker?  Are we back to silos of information when we’re talking about premium content?

There is still the remote possibility that this acquisition won’t happen. Very remote. The deal will probably close in the next 30 days or so, after employees around the world have been contacted. Then we’ll see what this latest ownership change will mean for the online information pioneer called Dialog.




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