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Thomson Gale Introduces New Product Platform
Posted On September 7, 2004
Thomson Gale has been working for several years on a major initiative to migrate its numerous interfaces and technology platforms into a single user experience and technology platform. The company has now started to move some customers to the beta of the new platform and has informed customers of its planned release schedule. The first phase, scheduled for November 2004, will provide a common interface for cross searching InfoTrac databases and e-books in the Gale Virtual Reference Library (GVRL). Then, the company will add its Resource Centers and other online products to the new platform in phases over the course of a year and a half, expecting to complete the rollout by February 2006. In addition to the common interface for its products, the new platform offers a simpler design with enhanced usability, increased customization capabilities, greater flexibility, exporting to third-party software, index term browsing, context-sensitive help, and many other functional improvements.

According to Rich Foley, Gale's executive vice president of sales and marketing, the new platform is a major accomplishment: "We have essentially reworked our online delivery system." Behind the scenes this has meant restructuring data, improving metadata, and involving a significant technological investment. A considerable amount of the technology work has been done in conjunction with West, part of Thomson Legal and Regulatory. What is being developed could possibly be leveraged by other Thomson units. The single platform will also allow Thomson Gale to segment its products more rapidly to meet market demands.

Thomson Gale also spent more than 2 years conducting exhaustive customer research, which included surveys, focus groups, usability lab testing, client site visits, and work with a user interface consultant. The new platform is being built according to how customers said information should be delivered to the end user.

In effect, the company is taking the one-stop model of the "resource center" (an aggregation of periodical, reference, and primary content pulled together) and expanding it to encompass all of its wide-ranging content. Users will still be able to limit searches to whatever slices of content they wish, and, more importantly, they will be able to create their own customized resources. Foley said, for example, that there isn't a religion resource center, but a library could purchase a slice of InfoTrac content and some key GVRL titles and in effect create its own fully searchable, tailored product.

The common, simplified interface will reduce librarian and patron training. All products will have the same look and feel (see screen shots) but will retain specific searching capabilities for particular product data sets. The search box is in the center of the screen with a navigation bar at the top. Results are organized and presented in a tabbed display (Magazines & Trade Pubs, Scholarly, News, Multimedia, etc.). Users have the options to "search within results" and "expand/limit" the search. The left side of the results screen shows a column with subject terms related to a keyword search. Users can now browse index terms and then easily select them to add to a search.

Other features of the new platform include:

  • A "brought to you by" feature built into the platform that will offer the library the opportunity to brand the database as its own
  • Support in all databases for important standards and features like OpenURL, library holdings, interlibrary loan, Z39.50, Z39.80, etc.
  • Support of a common vocabulary across products to enhance searching precision
  • Continued support for standardized usage reporting meeting ICOLC and COUNTER guidelines
  • An improved capability for federated search vendors to simplify searching inside Thomson Gale resources
  • Improved article-linking capabilities to full text and images
  • Improved access to specific publication searching, to allow librarians and users to access the specific information they seek
  • Improved access to the library catalog through the Thomson Gale platform by increasing the amount and quality of MARC records linking library OPAC systems seamlessly to Thomson Gale resources
  • Improved use of Thomson Gale's InfoMark technology to assist with sharing of searches and articles through e-mail, Web pages, and links
  • Support for exporting to third-party software, including EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, and RefWorks
  • A new, improved customer administration capability, designed to save the library time and resources (this will not be available in the November release)

Thomson Gale has amassed a deep and diverse repository of content over the years. Now it has successfully transitioned to the next level—from offering separate silos of content based on the companies and resources comprising Thomson Gale to providing access to an integrated information solution.

Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.

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