It’s been 7 years since ProQuest acquired Dialog from Thomson Reuters. At that time, librarians worldwide were either exhilarated or dismayed. Dialog had long been the online search service of choice for most librarians, and LexisNexis, ProQuest, and others were lagging behind. With the widespread use of Google and other robust search engines, the time had come for Dialog’s complete overhaul. Several enhancements, integrations, and user feedback sessions later, ProQuest has done an admirable job of creating a new, relevant product.
Gone are the Dialog blue sheets, but that shouldn’t make you feel blue for long. In answer to users’ concerns, ProQuest introduced ProQuest Dialog ProSheets, which list all the detailed search techniques “for the special features of each database, including database description, subject coverage, date range, update frequency, data sources, origin and more.” Its sample records illustrate what results might look like when a search is performed.
A New Search Interface
Dialog will still be available for researchers and librarians who prefer to use this interface, but the overall ProQuest search platform got an overhaul as well. Addressing users of all search levels, ProQuest now offers a Basic, Google-like search application for end users and an Advanced Search for more experienced users that includes a command-line option enabling more precise queries.
Not stopping there, in August 2015, ProQuest announced a major platform enhancement, including all databases on search.proquest.com. Based on “deep analysis of researcher behaviors on the ProQuest platform, extensive testing with users and librarians, beta testing with a variety of customer development partners, and large scale A/B testing,” the company’s goal was to create “enhancements [that] make discovery and access of ProQuest’s rich, diverse content more intuitive and effective.”
According to Allan Lu, ProQuest’s VP of research tools, services, and platforms, “ProQuest is continually improving its solutions to meet evolving user and library needs. This was a typical platform life cycle development. To support [this development], we have gathered a lot of information on how the platform is being used in the form of customer feedback, survey data, and web analytics. In the development we have made sure that features are in the most appropriate locations, based on levels of activity or demand, and meet the needs of today’s users.”
Lu notes that ProQuest shares its development process with librarians when introducing them to the interface. “Not only are we getting very good response to the new interface, but we’ve had customers tell us they want to use our process as they redesign their own websites,” he says.
Lu continues, “Our platform delivers vital resources to researchers so it’s essential that we involve them in any major life cycle development. We cater to the needs of a wide range of users, from college freshman students through to tenured professors and beyond, so we involved a range in our user research, in our prototyping and in final testing of the new designs. As with librarians, we sought input from across the board covering undergraduates, post-graduates [and] faculty. It was also important that we involved some participants who had little or no experience of the ProQuest platform but had used other similar services.”
Dialogue on Dialog
Users were and still are the key to any past, present, or future changes to the Dialog platform. Initiating enhancements and changes that result from their feedback and suggestions still acts as a major driver for the product. Throughout the rest of 2015, more changes and enhancements are scheduled, such as the introduction of more powerful tools and further integration into users’ workflows. Databases will also be moved onto the new search platform, including ProQuest’s popular film studies resources.
Lu says the company’s plans through 2016 feature the “launch of ProQuest Ebook Central, a new ebook platform designed from the ground-up that integrates the best of EBL and ebrary and adds all new functionality to create an unmatched, end-to-end ebook experience. This content links to the ProQuest platform, so that users can search them simultaneously and its interface shares the same design principles as the ProQuest interface.”
ProQuest keeps its projects on track by following these design principles:
- Make content the star
- Use natural, human language
- Be rigorously simple
- Be intuitive
- Maybe most importantly, make research delightful
Additional plans include creating an all-new RefWorks citation and document management platform and enhancing the Summon Service discovery tool. In each instance, ProQuest plans to ensure that any transition runs smoothly and poses no disruptions to its users.
ProQuest users may be asking, “Are we there yet?” Fasten your seat belts, because the journey still isn’t over for the company and its plans to engage and “delight” its users. One new stop on the highway as of Oct. 6, 2015, is ProQuest’s intention to acquire Ex Libris Group, a leading global provider of library automation solutions.