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Dialog Introduces Web Access to Pure Command-Driven DIALOG in DialogClassic; Announces Upgrades to Menu-Supported DialogWeb
by
Posted On October 19, 1998
The Dialog Corporation (http://www.dialog.com) has introduced a new Web route to its traditional command-driven interface in the new DialogClassic interface. A first look at the new interface revealed some problems, specifically when using later versions of the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser. Dialog also announced forthcoming changes in its established two-mode DialogWeb interface that supports both command access and guided or instructional access.

DialogClassic (http://www.dialogclassic.com) should serve the needs of experienced DIALOG searchers who need little or no help with searching the system, but don't want to exit their Web browsers and switch to a telnet or communication software interface just to access one search service. Now they can search in the traditional mode with nothing more than a "?" prompt between them and their next DIALOG instruction. However, if you need help at key portions of a search, e.g. selecting databases or reviewing graphical displays of the Bluesheets, rates, fields, formats, or other aids, Dialog recommends you still check out the command-mode DialogWeb interface. To reach DialogClassic, just specify the URL http://www.dialogclassic.com and enter your user ID and password with the Logon.

The DialogClassic system takes advantage of the browser's graphics handling to display high- quality images from selected files that carry them, e.g. patent and trademark drawings. Dialog admits that the quality of the images with DialogClassic far exceeds those presented through the DialogLink communications software. Nor do searchers sacrifice any resolution due to screen re- sizing.

The streamlined rapid page loading with DialogClassic allows some noticeable time savings. Users can display, print, and download large quantities of records using the browser's local cache settings and their own computer's system resources. For example, when you request a mass of full-text records, the machinery at Dialog composes it into an HTML document and ships it en masse to your computer. No longer do you have to wait while the modem feeds screen after screen. When you see the top of the results appear, you can download the entire set into a file and move on to the next step of the search. However, if you wish to read the records, they are still all there before you. You can even use the "Find" command in your browser to hop around with specific keywords. If you want to re-review an earlier set of records, such as a browsing list in a Free format ("T s#/free/all"), you can use the Back or History functions to reach the earlier results, another HTML set.

Caveat Searcher

DialogClassic uses frame technology to hold the command line stable at the bottom of the screen. Frames have their problems, as most Web surfers know by now. The problems get particularly difficult with Microsoft Internet Explorer's later versions. Netscape browsers work well. A Dialog representative told us, "If 99.9 percent of the world were on Netscape, 99.7 percent of my problems would be solved." (He may find solace in a new market-share study from Zena Research Inc. that polled some 113 companies. They found that in September, some 60 percent of the companies named Netscape's Navigator as their primary browser, up from 54 percent in July, while 40 percent chose Microsoft's Internet Explorer, down from 45 percent in July. However other studies do indicate that Microsoft continues to expand its presence in the browser marketplace.)

Testing DialogClassic using Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.01 accidentally thrust us into the worst-case scenario. Dialog claims that almost no problems exist with any version of Netscape and few problems with early versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer. But when users start with 4.0 or later, the problems start to build. Specifically, IE 4.01 cannot save resultsa fact you do not discover until you have completed your search, spent your money, logged off, and called up the search results into your word processor. Then, and only then, do you find that you have an empty sack, a 1- or 2-KB file with nothing in it.

The work-arounds for the problem seem, at best, to eliminate the advantage of superior speed that DialogClassic would otherwise offer. The simplest, but most time-consuming, involves sending the results to an e-mail box ("PR s#/f#/all addr ADname"). Once you have used the Edit function to produce one or more e-mail addresses (ADname), you can enter the command quickly. However, even if you follow the Print to e-mail instruction with a Send command to eliminate the obligatory 30-minute wait, you cannot be sure how long it will take to get your results. It could be minutes or an hour or more.

The second work-around involves using the highlight function to copy or paste text into Windows Notepad or a word processor. Here again, the latest version of Microsoft's Internet Explorer causes more trouble. Apparently if you use the pull-down Edit menu on IE 4.01 to Save All the highlighted material, it will save it but as one long sentence with no line feeds or spacing. To save it as readable records, you need to right-click the mouse button and choose the Save file at that point. Don't forget to save results as a text file rather than HTML, unless you enjoy stripping out <<<>>> symbols.

One generic warning, regardless of what browser you use: Remember to note your costs as you search. With no Session Record or Capture function, the system does not keep a master record of the entire search process. Users may forget that they have to capture the costs of searches in separate steps. Since Dialog no longer sends users detailed accounts of search expenditures by day and time with the monthly bill, if you do not retain the cost information you need as you do the search, you will not have it when you need itto bill clients.

Another tip from Dialog staff is to use the right mouse button while pointed on the Back function of the browser to move back and forth through different results set. By the way, at the time we posted this NewsBreak, DialogClassic had no information about these problems posted on the site. However, Dialog staff promised us that they would include details of browser platform difficulties and work-arounds in the Release Notes posted to the site. As to when and whether they would fix all the problems, the Dialog representative had no specifics, beyond hoping for improvements in Microsoft's browser philosophy. With Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.0 already available in beta for developers, we may expect to see that Release Notes section growing steadily.

DialogWeb 2.0

Before the end of the year, Dialog intends to launch a major upgrade to DialogWeb (http://www.dialogweb.com) with Version 2.0. The DialogWeb interface offers two search modes: a Command Search and a Guided Search. The latter offers forms for searching designed to eliminate the need for knowledge of Dialog commands. In Version 2.0, they will enhance the Guided Search mode with a simplified subject hierarchy to categorize databases into eight subject areas: Business, Government, Intellectual Property, Medicine and Pharmaceuticals, News, Reference, Science and Technology, and Social Sciences and Humanities. Users can tailor their search forms to the specific databases, or use the OneSearch category in this mode.

Another Guided Search mode improvement will feature an abbreviated display of record results called a Picklist, which will automatically appear after the completion of a search. In most cases the Picklist will display detailed information at no charge, including record title or company name, publication date, price per record, and available display formats. It will also provide searchers an option to easily send records via e-mail, fax, or postal delivery.

Other key features on DialogWeb 2.0 include the following:

  • Ability to store favorite search strategies and alerts
  • Ability to set general preferences such as a subaccount or an alias password
  • New graphical search interface for searching and displaying market research reports
  • More easy-to-use search forms for frequently searched topics
  • Ability to easily browse indexes to pinpoint the right search terms
  • Direct logon from the main DialogWeb page before starting a search

To preview DialogWeb 2.0, go to http://products.dialog.com/products/dialogweb/dweb_tour/.


Barbara Quint was senior editor of Online Searcher, co-editor of The Information Advisor’s Guide to Internet Research, and a columnist for Information Today.


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