They say that the "devil's in the details." So what does the new Windows Live Academic Search service really provide for users? How will it appeal to librarians? What relationships will it need to build with publishers? How will competitors react? Is Microsoft committed to the product?
Features and Reactions
It will be months before we can expect a useful comparative review of Windows Live Academic Search and Google Scholar. Technically both products are in beta, but Google's definition of the term "beta" covers some rather fully developed services, including Google Scholar (which is currently anticipating its second anniversary). Microsoft's Academic Search is a true beta—it still adds significant content, and plans are already in place for a second beta phase. In fact, the entire Windows Live site is very "beta" in style.
Nonetheless, the features and interface in Windows Live Academic Search have a very polished look. They offer users more sophisticated control of their searches than is usually seen in free services. Specifically, users can:
- Sort and limit results by author, date (forward or reverse chronological order), journal, conference, or back to the default, relevance.
- Use the "Richness Slider" to expand or contract the relevance ranked display of search results.
- Click on author names for author bibliographies (with no limits on the numbers of authors "clickable"; no "et al.").
- View an abstract of each search citation in a preview pane section on the right of the screen or "hide abstract" if you just want to scan brief citations as quickly as possible using the full screen.
- Export citation in basic text, RIS' EndNote, or BibTeX bibliographic formats.
- Find in a library using the connection to OCLC's Open WorldCat service (on its way).
- Save search strategies in macros using "Search Builder," which will also support RSS feeds ("Feeds" at the top of the screen tied to a "+live.com" option) to alert searchers as new results appear on their Live.com page. (Can anyone here spell "SDI"?) Expect to see macro services in Academic Search within 2 weeks, according to Thiru Thirumalai-Anandanpillai (herein known as "Thiru"), senior product manager at Microsoft.
By the way, not all citations of published material will carry abstracts, nor will all the abstracts visible in the right pane be complete. Microsoft leaves it up to publishers whether they want to supply Windows Live Academic Search with no abstract, the first 140 characters in an abstract, or the full abstract. Microsoft does, however, insist that full abstracts be available when the searcher reaches contributing publisher Web sites. Casual checks of the service seemed to show many publishers using the 140-character option.
While focusing on published content, the service does offer Web-based material as well. Under each bibliographic citation, for example, you will see a "Search Web" option. Click on it and the system will automatically convert the title of the article into an open Web search statement. If you want to restrict your search to more specific scholarly collections on the Web or to search on nontitle elements, one tip from Windows Live Academic Search staff is to enter your search statement along with the term "ArXiv" to reach content in the OAI-compliant institutional repositories which that source covers. By the way, Web content listings carry ads ("Sponsored Links") while published sources do not. With the right-hand pane in use for displaying abstracts, it would leave little "real estate" for ads.
Many of the generic features in Windows Live have potential advantages for Windows Live Academic Search users. For example, "Smart Scrolling" keeps scrolling down until all results are seen, rather than delivering results page-by-page. The advantage can work both ways. For example, if you enter a general technical term and click on the News tab offered on all pages, you might get lucky and see business activities pertaining to that technical development. In the future, the option to share search macros available in Windows Live could support scholarly community building. Users of Windows Live Academic Search can expect to see advances in applying the macro technology in coming weeks, according to Thiru.
Several bloggers have seen Windows Live Academic Search and have posted their initial reactions. They include Dean Giustini, reference librarian at the Biomedical Branch Library of the Vancouver Hospital and Health Sciences Centre and blogger at the UBC Google Scholar Blog.folio, (comments at http://weblogs.elearning.ubc.ca/googlescholar/archives/025089.html); Steven Cohen, senior librarian at PubSub Concepts, Inc. and blogger at LibraryStuff.net (http://www.librarystuff.net/2006/04/microsoft-academic-search-review.html); and Gary Price (http://www.resourceshelf.com/2006/04/microsoft-launches-academic-search.html). You could even use Microsoft's own Windows Live Academic Search Blog (http://spaces.msn.com/academicsearch).