The Dialog Corp. announced on October 4 that it is making pay-per-view access to business, science, and technology information available via several "professional Internet portals." Yes, hard as it is to believe, Dialog has finally opened its doors to the unwashed masses. You can now buy Dialog content by the document, with a credit card. No flat fee pricing, no $75 minimum charges, no contracts to sign.
While the press release focuses on the portals, what is really being launched, under a somewhat cumbersome title, is Open Access DialogSelect. The service is in essence a repricing of the regular DialogSelect service available to subscribers, now referred to as Member Access DialogSelect. Probably just the first step toward making Dialog content available through a variety of portals, this development marks the beginning of Dialog's entry into the wild and wooly world of true transaction-based selling.
The announcement of the service touts Dialog's relationship with Netscape and notes links (http://www.dialog.com/business, http://www.dialog.com/science, and http://www.dialog.com/technology) to the portals, but these are simply links to the service on MyNetscape, configured with weather information, sports, stock quotes ... the usual commodities available on any search engine. A simpler way to get to Open Access DialogSelect is to go directly to http://openaccess.dialog.com and click the link to the channel you want: Business & News, Chemistry, Engineering, Environment, Government, Intellectual Property, Medicine, or Pharmaceuticals.
If you are familiar with DialogSelect—the end-user interface that offers preformatted search screens and access to about 330 of Dialog's databases—you'll recognize Open Access DialogSelect. You have the same drill-down feature that lets you focus in on a specific subject area to search, and a search form built for that topic. See Figure 1 for the Food Regulations search screen, which you get to by selecting the Government channel, then clicking Regulations, then clicking Food.
Note that you can see what databases are included in the search; clicking on the database name at the bottom of the search screen will display several paragraphs of description of the content and structure of the file—a nice feature that most other pay-per-view Web sites don't offer.
|Figure 1: Click for full screen image|
Both Open Access and Member Access DialogSelect are designed for end users, so you need not use the complex Dialog syntax when typing in a search. There is some behind-the-scenes parsing of search terms and while it does not provide the same level of precision as a Dialog Classic search, you are spared the need to remember how to build search statements such as S SKIM?(3N)MILK.
The search results screen displays title, date, and price. You click a check-off box to select the items you want; an "estimated cost" box automatically tabulates your total cost. This is a surprisingly cost-conscious feature, given that DialogWeb does not display the running cost as you change from file to file. Only after you have clicked the items you want are you taken to a screen that asks for your credit card information. All searching and title displays are free. (Note that because of this pricing structure, files available through Member Access DialogSelect that charge for titles-only display are not included in the Open Access DialogSelect program.) The documents you pay for can be saved as HTML files or plain text.
Keep in mind that if you are searching a bibliographic database with both abstracts and full-text records, you cannot tell from the results screen whether the records are full text or not. Some of the search screens let you limit the search to full text only; others do not.
So, what about the pricing? Open Access DialogSelect charges per document—no DialUnits or per-search charges … yet. (When the much-touted but as yet undetermined new pricing plan for Dialog is implemented in 2000, it is possible that Open Access DialogSelect pricing will change as well.) Note that the per-document charges in Open Access DialogSelect are roughly 25 percent higher than the full-record price charged to Dialog subscribers through DialogWeb, Dialog Classic, and Member Access DialogSelect. Obviously, Dialog has set prices in such a way as to encourage regular users to migrate to a subscription plan. On the other hand, if you don't expect to use Dialog often enough to meet the $75/month minimum, that 25 percent premium may not be a burden. One of the trade-offs for information professionals, of course, is that the DialogSelect service does not offer the full power of Dialog. You can't combine databases, construct complex search statements, or view search results in anything but a limited title format.
It will be interesting to see how the marketplace reacts to Open Access DialogSelect. The prices are not competitive when compared to comparable sources such as Electric Library ($9.95/month for all you can eat—http://www.elibrary.com), Northern Light Special Collection ($1-$2.95/article for most business news—http://www.northernlight.com), or Powerize ($2-$2.70/article—http://www.powerize.com). Compare those prices to Open Access DialogSelect, which charges around $3.90/article for most business news articles, and you will be underwhelmed. But where else can you search market research reports, chemical structure databases, regulatory newsletters, and European patents at the same site? For Dialog's target market—professionals who choose to do their own research but who do not wish to subscribe to Dialog—Open Access DialogSelect may be the best alternative in the pay-per-view arena. Information professionals will find this service useful if they need only occasional access to the deep resources of Dialog or if they want an online information service they can refer patrons to for do-it-yourself, and pay-for-it-yourself, searching.