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The New Look of Nexis
by
Posted On March 13, 2006
The "new Nexis" (http://www.nexis.com) debuted in the U.S. last week, heralded by LexisNexis as having a "new look, new features, and new functionality." It's the first glimpse that U.S. news and business searchers have had of the LexisNexis global platform. According to Elizabeth Rector, senior vice president of corporate and federal markets, the company's been working on the global platform for the past 18 months. There's something wrong with that timeline, however, since it was 2003 that LexisNexis announced it was "nearing completion" on its "single technology platform" that had been in development for 2 years (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=16652). That takes it back 5 years rather than 18 months.
Click for larger image
Click for larger image

The global platform announced last week standardizes functionality and content. Customers around the globe should experience the same look and feel when they access Nexis content from its single repository, even though this content will be customized to meet individual needs, since customers in different parts of the world require different content sets. The new Nexis contains more than 32,000 sources from which customers can pick and choose. What normalizes the content is the categorization—that's its value-add. Rector is proud that the new Nexis "is designed to help discovery." It's not just about doing a search, but discovering things unknown to the searcher. Leveraging LexisNexis SmartIndexing is an important component of this discovery—and normalization—process.

The U.K. version (http://www.lexisnexis.com/uk/business) of the new Nexis was on display at VNU's Online Information conference (http://www.online-information.co.uk) in November 2005 and is subtly different than the U.S. version. However, one thing stressed by both U.K. and U.S. LexisNexis staff is the customer-driven aspect of the new Nexis product development. They emphasize that input from customers define the product's capabilities. The few customers who have transitioned to the new interface are still providing advice to the development team, so some tweaks can be expected.

New Nexis was rolled out first in the U.K., then in France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada. The U.S. version benefits from lessons learned in other parts of the world and intends to leverage what was done there.

Everybody Into the Search Pool

The new Nexis interface is designed to reach beyond information professionals, while not ignoring their requirements for advanced, sophisticated searching. The hope is that the new Nexis will also appeal to serious researchers who aren't information professionals and even to the occasional searcher. Customers can choose, as their start page, Easy Search or Power Search. The Easy Search interface has a search box much larger than Google's and encourages searchers, via check boxes, to limit their searches to news, company, industry, people, countries, or industry information. A drop-down menu for dates allows for further search refinement. Power Search, which is where most information professionals will go, has a slightly smaller search box. Power searchers can choose to structure their search terms using either LexisNexis terms and connectors (Boolean logic) or natural language. They can select specific Nexis sources or choose from the same six check boxes the Easy Search menu provides. The dropdown box for date is identical to Easy Search.

The new Nexis is tabular in design. Across the top of all the search screens are tabs for the major search categories: News, Company, Industry, Public Records, People, Country Profiles, and Legal. Note that Legal is not a substitute for Lexis. It's a subset of legal information that would interest business researchers. The U.K. version's tabs are News, Companies, Industries, Countries, and People. Why does the U.S. use the singular Company while the U.K. wants the plural Companies? I don't know, but the difference probably stemmed from customer interviews LexisNexis did in the respective countries. The tabular format is the same; the actual tab nomenclature is tailored to the specific geographic customer base.

Click on a tab and the search screen that appears is optimized for that type of search. A company search, for example, has a box for Company Name(s) and a name lookup facility, plus a search box for free text terms to which LexisNexis SmartIndexing can be added. Another box restricts the search to specific sources. Date restrictions are available via a drop-down box. The U.S. version has a box for Ticker Symbol; the U.K. one doesn't. Related Links, on the right-hand side of the page, link to mini-tutorials on topics such as "How do I search by company name?" or "How do I use the company name look-up option?" Similar tutorial questions, tailored to the topic, appear on the other subject search screens.

Expanded List Results and Clustering

Results from searches are displayed, by default, in an expanded list format. This can be changed by the searcher, but LexisNexis found that the expanded list was the most popular format. URLs within a document are live, taking the searcher to a site outside the LexisNexis environment. Search terms are internally hyperlinked, making it easy to navigate quickly to related information within the document. However, the ability to click on an index term to do a new search on that term is lacking. Other search services, such as EBSCOhost, provide that feature. Instead, the new Nexis puts check boxes at the end of retrieved articles under "Find Documents with Similar Topics." These select some of the index terms, but not all of them.

The new Nexis makes use of clustering technology, which is similar to that employed by Web search engines such as Vivisimo, but it's less problematic, since it works from controlled vocabulary, rather than algorithms applied to nonindexed Web pages. This clustering is particularly important because it can reveal aspects of a search term the researcher had not considered. It both disambiguates the terms and suggests types of coverage of the topic. Categories include source type, source name, subject, industry, company, geography, or language.

When Do I Get In?

Migration to the new platform will be instituted methodically over the next year by sales territory. Although this new Nexis is not intended to supplant classic Nexis, it will take the place of nexis.com. Any new subscribers will, of course, be signed up with the new platform. The problem with seamless migration is keeping existing customer preferences. Although LexisNexis has no plans to drop classic Nexis, there will be no new developments on that platform. Rector said, "We hope they see value in the new Nexis and will switch, but we recognize the power of classic." It will be a challenge for LexisNexis to wean some existing customers from classic Nexis—competitors such as Dialog still maintain their classic interfaces for steadfast professional searchers.

This has been a long time coming. Much of the impetus behind the global platform, besides providing a much-needed search compatibility among the company's international customer base, is to portray LexisNexis as a truly global company. In various parts of the world, it's still known via companies it's acquired. Not only that, the legal portion, both in content and customer base, has been the primary focus. News and business has been given short shrift. Customers outside the legal information environment should feel encouraged that LexisNexis is putting this much energy and resources into developing a new, global platform for news and business information.


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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