In December 2000, Elsevier announced it was working with Fast Search & Transfer (FAST) to develop a new science-specific search engine. Scirus made its formal debut in April 2001. Now, after 6 years of growth, many improvements, and receiving numerous awards, Scirus has announced it is partnering with FAST and the Elsevier Publishing Division to provide an additional free online resource for the scientific community that will create more of a portal community for the Scirus site. Scirus is now working to pull together relevant academic information on a particular scientific topic of interest to researchers on a single Web page. The new specialized Topic Pages are being designed to provide relevant, up-to-date information; encourage collaboration; and create new scientific Web communities. Beta versions of a few Topic Pages should be available soon at topics.scirus.com, with user tests planned for the coming months. The official launch is planned for later this year—estimated to be 3Q.
Each Topic Page will provide researchers with summaries of a specific topic written by an authority in the particular subject area, with direct links to relevant scholarly papers, abstracts and citations, supplemented with relevant Web sites and other online resources from Scirus. In the initial phase, Elsevier editors will select and invite authors for the Topic Pages. As more pages are developed, additional authoring options will be considered.
"We're pleased that Elsevier Publishing and FAST [have] agreed to work with us on this exciting project that will offer an easy, and flexible communication and collaboration tool for scientists around the world," said Joris van Rossum, head of Scirus. "FAST's search capabilities, coupled with Elsevier's network of authors and online scientific resources will provide researchers the ultimate resource for a specified topic."
While the current Scirus search engine includes content indexed in Elsevier's ScienceDirect—which comprises mostly Elsevier content—Scirus will use Elsevier's Scopus service to provide journal-related results in the Topic Pages as it covers more than 15,000 journals from 4,000 publishers. Van Rossum stressed that Topic Pages would not favor Elsevier sources but would include the broader Scopus content. However, the results from Scopus will not be included generally via Scirus—just for the Topic Pages for now.
Scirus searches many more sources, of course, including free Web information and proprietary content. Web sources searched by Scirus include research institutes, governments, scientific organizations, conferences, scientists' home pages, and company home pages worldwide. The many special sources include preprints, eprints, patents, technical documents, theses and dissertations, and full-text documents from a number of projects and digital repositories.
When the Topic Pages product officially launches, it will provide functionality to allow scientists and researchers to alter the content and provide feedback, allowing each topic to be shaped by the suggestions made by the research community at large. The pages will be expanded to include capabilities such as the ability for researchers to link to their bibliographies and comment on other researchers' works. The developers hope that the Topic Pages will serve as a place to find peers, communicate with other scientists, upload and rate a wide variety of relevant sources, and help shape and influence the tools and information provided on the Topic Pages themselves.
See the screen shot with a very early sample mock-up of what a Topic Page on Evolutionary Economics might look like, including a section for comments. (And here's a link to its current beta page: http://topics.scirus.com/TestTopicPages/topicpageview.jsp?topic=Evolutionary+Economics.) Koen Frenken, of the Urban and Regional research centre Utrecht (URU) at Utrecht University, worked with Scirus on this preliminary page. He commented: "I consider Scirus Topic Pages as [an] interesting way to organise scientific information in digital form as well as a means to support further community building around a certain topic. Relevant information will attract scientists to visit the website and then—possibly—to add to its contents. I reckon such pages are relevant for many topics and across different scientific disciplines."
The Topic Pages will utilize intelligent search capabilities from the FAST Enterprise Search Platform (ESP). FAST ESP will be used to pick the content relevant to each Topic Page and will also relate pages to each other, based on taxonomic structure. "By combining information retrieval and analysis, FAST ESP will help Topic Pages provide researchers with faster and more accurate results, leading to higher productivity, and faster discovery times," said Sven Arne Gylterud, senior vice president of products for FAST.
A search launched from a Topic Page will provide results tailored to the topic and the community, according to van Rossum. Future search functionality in the product will leverage the results of other searches and the community feedback. Gylterud said that this will result in search-driven community building as well as provide a more optimized user search experience. As users interact with the system and connect to content and each other, online interest profiles would be developed and leveraged. He indicated that this was an area of current development for FAST and that we would soon be hearing of other FAST projects that involved community building.
FAST has been a longtime partner in many of Elsevier's projects. It has been the technology behind Scopus since its launch in late 2004. In January 2007, the companies announced that ScienceDirect had deployed the FAST Enterprise Search Platform (ESP) to improve the search experience and enhance the interoperability between the ScienceDirect and Scopus platforms.
Dan Penny, an analyst at Outsell, Inc., pointed out the similarity of the Topic Pages to Wikipedia's display of content—with both aiming to provide comprehensive guides to a topic. However, he commented, "When it comes to providing a platform for informal communication between scientists, Topic Pages may find that emulating Wikipedia's success is more difficult." He suggests that the communication might fall "awkwardly between two stools: it is, after all, more formal than a comment in a blog, but less formal than paid-for content in a peer-reviewed journal." But, Penny said that Topic Pages might find success "in subject areas where there is a lively community and plenty of scope for discussion."