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Whither Dialog? ProQuest Takes the Reins of the Venerable Search Service
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Posted On June 19, 2008


Before there was a Google, before there was a World Wide Web, before there was an internet, there was Dialog (www.dialog.com). Born in the Cold War days of the 1960s out of a Lockheed Missile and Space Co. project to develop an online document retrieval system for NASA, Dialog became the way most database producers found their way online and the service that most professional searchers used to serve their clients. Times have changed and, over the years, Dialog has had a number of owners. Though the service has long ceased to dominate the world of searchers, or even the world of professional searchers, it still sets the standard for many in providing controlled, precision searching of structured databases covering a broad range of high-quality content. Now ProQuest (www.proquest.com), a Cambridge Information Group company (www.cambridgeinformationgroup.com), has purchased Dialog from Thomson Reuters (www.thomsonreuters.com), where it resided in the Scientific Division (http://scientific.thomsonreuters.com). The purchase also incorporates the European-based DataStar division of Dialog.

In making the announcement to staff, Vin Caraher, president and CEO of Thomson Reuters Scientific, wrote, "Dialog is a highly respected broad source of aggregated information; however, it no longer fits with the Thomson Reuters strategy to build stronger, deeper content and analytical services within highly specific vertical markets." Caraher added, "The Dialog business will be an exceptionally good fit with ProQuest’s strategic direction."

Andrew Snyder, president of Cambridge Information Group and chair of CIG’s ProQuest, Bowker, and Navtech subsidiaries, stated, "Dialog will be run as a separate business unit. It services a specific need in the market, one different from the historical academic library arena. This acquisition will help ProQuest expand its presence in the corporate market. It gives us a strong customer base we didn’t always have, plus rich content to expand on, especially in the fields of health, pharmaceuticals, and intellectual property."

Cambridge Information Group purchased ProQuest in late 2006. With hundreds of databases, incorporating those from traditional ProQuest and Cambridge Scientific Abstracts, ProQuest already covers everything from sci-tech and medicine to social sciences, arts, and humanities. Like Dialog, its content sweeps across the wide range of scholarship and research. However, where ProQuest has concentrated on marketing to libraries and academic institutions with an estimated 25,000 customers, Dialog has focused on corporate and government markets.

Dialog began in 1967 with project work led by Roger Summit at Lockheed Corp. In 1972, Dialog was launched as a commercial search service, becoming a corporate subsidiary of Lockheed in 1971. Then the company passed through a series of owners—from the somewhat disappointing Knight Ridder (1988–1997) to the somewhat disastrous M.A.I.D. (1997–2000) to the somewhat placid Thomson (now Thomson Reuters) Scientific.

Negotiations between Thomson Reuters and Cambridge Information Group’s ProQuest began in February. With the signing of the agreement, Marty Kahn, CEO of ProQuest, expected the transaction to complete within a few weeks, pending a successful completion of the formal consultation period and other customary closing conditions. Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Commenting on the acquisition, Matt Dunie, former president of ProQuest/CSA, described it as a "great acquisition for Cambridge Information Group and ProQuest. It gives them a larger footprint in the non-academic market segment. They can leverage the capabilities of Dialog’s distribution with the content inside ProQuest forthe great benefit of users."

Kahn made it clear that ProQuest didn’t acquire Dialog to "be a cash cow or to wind it down." It is taking the unit intact, about 150–170 employees, most located in three locations—Sunnyvale, Calif., Cary, N.C., and London. When the lease expires in North Carolina, he plans to move that office. Kahn will focus on keeping and reconstituting the sales, training, and support teams at Dialog. Sales had been integrated into Thomson Reuters Scientific. With most of the sales force remaining with Thomson, that will leave ProQuest light on sales staff for Dialog. Even ex-Dialog salespeople have reportedly been approached for rehiring.

One issue seems comforting. ProQuest Dialog and its DataStar subsidiary will continue to retain access to key databases owned by Thomson Reuters, including Derwent World Patents Index, BIOSIS, Investext, SciSearch, TrademarkScan, and others. In fact, the Dialog system will continue to operate off the mainframe computers at Thomson Reuters West in Eagan, Minn. A long-term "transition services" contract covers computer support there for at least 3 years.

For prediction and reactions to the sale, see the accompanying NewsBreak at http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbReader.asp?ArticleID=49579.

My particular thanks for assistance in researching this NewsBreak goes to my Information Today, Inc. colleagues, Marydee Ojala, editor of ONLINE, and Paula Hane, ITI News Bureau chief.


Barbara Quint is contributing editor for NewsBreaks, senior editor of Online Searcher, and a columnist for Information Today.

Email Barbara Quint

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