In the Chicago of the Roaring '20s, the era of Al Capone and bootleg gin, Big Bill Thompson won his third term as mayor on the slogan "Punch King George in the snoot." Thompson knew the art of holding a grudge. He didn't let little things like a century of peaceful relations and a shoulder-to-shoulder alliance in World War I interfere with memories of Redcoats firing muskets at ex-colonials and burning down the original White House.
In business relationships, alliances and enmities usually come and go quickly in the face of economic realities. Nonetheless, a recent announcement by Dialog and Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) brought back some wartime memories to online veterans. Later this summer, Dialog will offer CAS abstracts for display. Those abstracts have been a long time coming.
Twelve years ago to the month, Dialog filed an antitrust suit against the American Chemical Society (ACS), CAS's not-for-profit parent organization, demanding an injunction to force CAS to license its abstracts. ACS countersued Dialog on issues of accounting. The real dispute, most observers agreed, was CAS's desire to promote its own online delivery services by leveraging CASearch, its monster key database. CAS had opened an online service called CAS Online in 1980, 6 years after Dialog started releasing its online version of CASearch. CAS Online merged with partners in Germany (FIZ Karlsruhe) and Japan (Japan Science and Technology Corp.) to create STN International, today's leading sci-tech commercial online service.
Roger Summit, founder and then president of Dialog, described the extensive negotiations that preceded the suit, blaming CAS's "long-standing pattern of intransigence [which] has finally left us with no choice but to take legal action." In fierce counterarguments, CAS's then director, Ronald Wigington, proclaimed fiercely that the "governance and management of the ACS have already determined that we will contest in a court of law each and every allegation that Dialog has made … not only on behalf of the ACS and its members but for the benefit of the entire scientific community."
Months later the players settled the case out of court. But when the dust cleared, CAS and STN International remained the only online services that carried the abstracts. As the years passed, STN International grew into the top sci-tech niche market online search service, eroding the former dominance of Dialog, Orbit, and other commercial online players. However, with CAS and STN's control of the existing market so secure in 2002, they may now consider that a more generous policy toward the competitors still left standing will produce additional revenue without raising the threat of cannibalizing present revenue.
Where are the warriors of yesterday? Well, CAS's spokesperson during those troubling times, Dick Kaser, is now vice president of content at Information Today, Inc., publisher of this NewsBreak. Summit has retired, but still holds an emeritus relationship with Dialog. When I caught up with Summit, he hadn't heard of the announcement, but quickly recalled that Dialog had offered CAS the option of providing non-searchable, but viewable, abstracts through links. Back then, according to Summit, CAS rejected the offer. But time mellows people and now Summit considers the recent development "a first step in the right direction towards future cooperation of the two organizations. CAS has everything to gain financially and nothing to lose competitively."
When completed, the CAS/Dialog links will allow searchers on the DialogWeb-Guided Search service to conduct searches of the CASearch database and order the display of abstracts for journal articles, patents, and other documents handled by CAS. The interface should allow searchers to specify a group of abstracts for delivery in a stream. The CA Search files empowered with this feature (Dialog file numbers 308-314 and 399) carry over 16 million indexed and coded bibliographic references in chemistry and related sciences dating to 1967. However, the new abstract channel applies only to DialogWeb users, no other access channels. Ironically, that would exclude Dialog Classic on the Web, the retirement home for ancient searchers. More importantly, the new arrangement will still not provide Dialog with access to the abstract text for enhancing searching.
Charges for the abstracts were unavailable at press time, although indications were that they would run at well over $1 apiece.
Nonetheless, Paul Colucci, Dialog's senior vice president of product development, proclaimed: "We are delighted to be offering our customers access to this highly valued information. We have worked closely with CAS for years and are excited now to extend that relationship for the benefit and convenience of our users in the scientific, medical, and technology communities around the world."
Suzan A. Brown, CAS director of marketing, stated: "We are pleased to be working with Dialog on this new development. Soon users of the CA Search file on DialogWeb-Guided Search will be able to conveniently order abstracts from CAS. We believe this will increase the availability of our world-leading scientific information within the broader business community."
One CAS representative described the arrangement as "no big deal in 2002." Another former CAS executive commented, "It just goes to show. All things come to him who waits." Of course, he works for Thomson now, Dialog's current parent.