Experts welcome the new entry into academic publishing, but question some of its potential benefits
By Doug Payne | April 25, 2006
Microsoft has entered the academic search field, launching this month a beta version of a tool called Windows Live Academic Search, which will index peer-reviewed subscription content from different publishers. Experts generally welcomed the new product, which rivals Google Scholar, but suggested it could pose problems for librarians and commercial vendors.
"The new tool "is a bona fide competitor to Google scholar," Dean Giustini, a Biomedical Branch Librarian at the University of British Columbia who blogs about Google Scholar, told The Scientist in an Email.
Free to use, the Microsoft product is targeted to scientists and academic researchers wanting to find scholarly literature across broad areas of research. It's currently available only in English, and only in certain countries, including the US, UK, and Germany. Thirumalai Anandanpillai, of MSN's Search Product Planning group, said that additional markets will be added this year, and content will be added throughout the beta period.
The searches will cover content from a range of publishers, including the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), Blackwell Publishing, Elsevier, Nature Publishing Group, the British Library, and John Wiley & Sons Inc. "Our goal is to add content from more publishers on an ongoing basis," said Anandanpillai. At least initially, Microsoft, which partnered with the industry association CrossRef, is not using citation count as a factor in determining relevance. "We utilize Microsoft's Search algorithms to do the relevance ranking [although] we have not ruled out using citation-based ranking in the future," Anandanpillai told The Scientist.
Open access publisher BioMed Central welcomed the new tool, as it did Google Scholar, which also indexes open access material. "The more the merrier," said Mathew Cockerill at BMC, a sister company of The Scientist. "One of the very positive things about the Internet is the extent to which it stimulates competition."
Anandanpillai added that the Windows program offers better sorting options than Google Scholar, allowing users to sort the search results by author, date of publication, conference in which the paper was presented, and the journal in which it was published. Academic Search also offers a feature that allows users to automatically derive citations to a paper that appears on the search results page.
Representatives from Google did not respond to requests for comment, but last week the company announced that it had added a feature to Google Scholar that enables researchers to rank recent articles only. "It's not just a plain sort by date, but rather we try to rank recent papers the way researchers do, by looking at the prominence of the author's and journal's previous papers, how many citations it already has, when it was written, and so on," software engineer Dejan Perkovic wrote on the Official Google Blog.
UBC's Giustini said he liked Microsoft's Academic Search's "bells and whistles," such as self-sort and importing results. These "are the kinds of features we normally pay for in our fee-based tools," he said. "Academic Search may yet prove to be extremely useful for scholars in starting their research."
However, he cautioned that the new tool's success could hold a hidden problem for librarians and commercial vendors. Adding a new tool "means more tools [for librarians] to teach and monitor. Tools that may threaten the existence of our commercial vendors like EBSCO, OVID and Web of Science." In addition, "by concentrating on scholarly content direct from publishers, Microsoft may be missing out on a lot of good content outside old media: Professors' web sites, learning objects, self-archived articles. Google Scholar's definition of 'what is scholarly' seems more inclusive than Microsoft's."
Cockerill, too, offered some mild criticisms of the new program. For instance, the service appears more "conservative" by, for instance, not offering citation information like Google Scholar does. "The interface also seems slightly more fussy."
Links within this story
Microsoft Announces Windows Live Academic Search
Windows Live Academic Search
D Payne, "Google Scholar welcomed," The Scientist, November 23, 2004
UBC Google Scholar blog
D. Perkovic, "Keeping up with recent research," Official Google Blog, April 20, 2006.