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Northern Light Introduces Discovery Portals
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Posted On April 5, 2012
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Northern Light Group, LLC is rolling out a new research tool that it is calling a discovery portal. Northern Light Discovery differs from the company’s SinglePoint portal in that it’s not customized for each specific customer. SinglePoint subscribers can access both internal and external content, with the proviso that they must have the legal rights to do so.

Discovery, on the other hand, has a standard interface and searches a predetermined body of external, publicly available information. The first discovery portal to be released focuses on life sciences. Next up will be information technology.

Conference Abstracts

According to Northern Light’s CEO, C. David Seuss, a significant content type included in the discovery portal is conference abstracts and poster presentations at scientific conferences. “We spent a couple of years tracking down conference information, which is scattered throughout the web and metatdata is not automatically included.” Plus, when it comes to posters, they convey information by images rather than words.

Seuss further commented that the conference abstracts fill a “substantial gap in the literature” since it can be several years before research presented at a conference is published in a peer-reviewed journal. What’s worse, “Controversial research may never be published.” Seuss doesn’t think that open access publishing or the open science movement has changed this.

Besides conference abstracts, the Life Sciences Discovery Portal includes content sets from MEDLINE/PubMed Central, ClinicalTrials.gov, life sciences patents sourced from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Northern Light Business News, Life Sciences Conference Radar (a conference directory), and Life Sciences Company Radar (company directory of the 100 largest companies with news and links to additional information).

Searching the Discovery Portal

The discovery portals use the sophisticated search capabilities developed by Northern Light over the past decade, with full Boolean capabilities, field limitations, and faceted navigation.

The opening screen of the Life Sciences Discovery Portal assumes you want to search conference abstracts. You can quickly switch to Scientific Research or News; it’s your preference. Your search options are a keyword search, title words, bookmark tags, specific conference, and date. You can sort results by relevance or by date. You can also choose to display 10, 20, 30, 50, or 100 results on a page.

From search results, you can click on the title to go directly to the abstract for that particular presentation or click on “All results” for the full conference record. From the drop-down menu Actions, you can retrieve the abstract, bookmark it, copy the URL, or email the link to a colleague.

Metadata and Taxonomies

Seuss said that harvesting metadata for authors and their affiliations is particularly tricky since there is no real standardization. Therefore, Northern Light has opted for a manual approach to determining author affiliations. When asked if he’d looked to the ORCID (Open Researcher & Contributor ID) project for backup, he replied, “We can’t wait for others.” Given the amount of interest in the scholarly scientific community about name standardization, it’s surprising that Northern Light opted for the “lone wolf” approach.

To the left of the results list are facets drawn from Northern Light’s MI Analyst. The text analytics and meaning extraction in the Life Sciences Discovery Portal are tailored to the data. Some of the facets are universal (Conference sponsors, Conference names, Authors, and Author affiliation), but others are specific to life sciences (Diseases, Generic drugs, Cells, Enzymes, and Proteins). Particularly interesting is Research Scenarios, which associate concepts by looking at word proximity. The taxonomies developed for the discovery portals are impressive. Although based on MeSH, the terminology is transformed so it can be used for analysis.

The content set of the Life Sciences Discovery Portal is included in the subscriptions that pharmaceutical and other life sciences companies currently have for SinglePoint. However, the discovery portals will be available to nonsubscribers of SinglePoint at a fixed, per annum rate that will allow for unlimited usage.

Because the content in Northern Light’s discovery portals is not proprietary and doesn’t need customization, it’s economical to produce and can be marketed as a stand-alone product for enterprise search. The aggregation of existing scientific, business, news, patent, and clinical trials information with newly acquired data for conference abstracts and posters makes for a powerful combination. Add in the taxonomic flourishes at which Northern Light excels and the discovery portals are likely to find a welcoming audience.

Top image: Results from a search on coated stents in Conference Abstracts displays with faceted navigation and text analytic possibilities on the left. 

Middle image: Clicking Research Scenarios reveals relationships based on analysis of word proximity.

Bottom image: The initial search page for Northern Light’s Life Sciences Discovery Portal presents several search options with basic information about the content to the left.


Marydee Ojala is the editor-in-chief of Online Searcher magazine, chairs WebSearch University, and is Program Development Director for Enterprise Search & Discovery.

Email Marydee Ojala

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