Microsoft Offers Alternative to Google Scholar: Windows Live Academic Search
Posted On April 17, 2006
A new workforce has just signed on to help in the enormous job of rounding up scholarly content on the Web. Microsoft has launched a test version of Windows Live Academic Search on its Live.com Web site (http://academic.live.com). The new search tool will search proprietary content from scholarly publishers, as well as the open Web. The initial beta test offers content from 10 publishers; two more are on the way. Phase one of the beta concentrates on three subject areas: computer science, electrical engineering, and physics. A handsome interface offers users a polished approach to searching built around structured metadata supplied by publishers plus retrieval drawing on full-text spidering. Ironically, in the course of extensive interviewing, the two people who spoke most enthusiastically about the arrival of Microsoft into the academic/scientific "search space" were Anurag Acharya, the man behind Google Scholar, and Sharon Mombru, the woman running Scirus, Elsevier's free sci-tech search engine. Although Microsoft representatives have been quoted as denying any "monetization" plans for the new service, I notice that the Web listings—in contrast with published sources—carry "Sponsored Links" advertising.
At present, most journal content comes from 10 publishers: IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), ACM Press, the American Institute of Physics (AIP), American Physical Society (APS), Blackwell Publishing, Institute of Physics, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), Nature Publishing, John Wiley and Sons, and Elsevier. The University of Chicago Press and Oxford University Press have also signed agreements. Danielle Tiedt, general manager of Windows Live Premium Search, said the service expects to expand its coverage to life sciences, medicine, and biology sources within 6 months. She said that they had found "each area has different metadata structures. For example, the humanities' metadata is less structured, while the social sciences vary; psychology is good, for example, while some other areas are not."
In contrast with Google Scholar's resistance to publishing source information, Windows Live Academic Search has a full list of publishers and journal titles available at http://academic.live.com/journals#pub, though dates of coverage aren't indicated. Thiru Thirumalai-Anandanpillai (known to friends, colleagues, and, hereinafter, readers of this NewsBreak as "Thiru"), senior product manager at Microsoft, reported that the length of coverage varies from publisher to publisher. Some provide 10 or 15 years of content; a few offer 30 to 40 years. The network of joint publishing efforts, e.g., between commercial publishers and scholarly societies, makes the list of publishers very lengthy—it's more than 100, in fact. The list of journal names has more than 7,100 titles, including 2,000-plus conferences. Overall, the system accesses some 8 million articles, according to Thiru.
The service supports OpenURL linking with library digital collections. It has alliances with Ex Libris, TDNet, Serial Solutions, and OCLC. Currently the links may take searchers to publisher Web sites authorized by institutional contracts. Microsoft has also set up a document delivery option with The British Library, similar to the one in place at Google Scholar (see the NewsBreak " Google Scholar Adds Pay-Per-View Delivery from The British Library," http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=15905). However, the system does not yet offer a direct order link such as Google Scholar's "BL Direct," although Thiru said that the service does have The British Library's Electronic Table of Contents (ETOC) back to 1940. However, Tiedt said that all the links to publisher Web sites currently available on the beta system— and she stressed "as of yet"— reach pay-per-view options from publishers.
The service initially launched in the English language for access in the U.S., U.K., Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan, and Australia. Microsoft promises to pursue new content sources vigorously and to expand markets throughout the testing period. Thiru said that Microsoft was already in discussions with JSTOR, the library-led digital journal archiving service.
Content alliances are being made in close association with CrossRef, the Publishers International Linking Association (PILA; http://www.crossref.org). CrossRef represents most major scholarly publishers, providing an infrastructure for linking citation metadata supplied by publishers through the OpenURL-compliant Digital Object Identifier (DOI) system. CrossRef also has a working arrangement with Google Scholar.
Amy Brand, director of business development at CrossRef, saluted the new service: "We're really pleased to be collaborating with Microsoft on an academic search tool that is designed both to improve the online research experience and to respect the concerns of the publishing industry. We look forward to helping bring even more content into Microsoft Academic Search as the initiative develops." Brand described the relationship as "more of a ‘cooperation' than a partnership per se." The partnership includes "settling on standard terms and conditions for indexing publisher full-text."
MSN (http://www.msn.com; originally Microsoft Network) is a portal and Internet Service Provider. Windows Live (http://www.live.com) began as a new site in November 2005, offering a set of personalized Internet services and software, including Googlelike search facilities. Currently, the MSN and Windows Live services co-exist; however, Tiedt indicated that all the MSN news and search services were migrating to Windows Live Search, eliminating MSN.com. Promotions for services would remain on MSN.com, but the new architecture of search would operate in Live.com. (For more information on where Microsoft plans to go with Windows Live, including blogs, demos, and even sign-ups in some cases, check out http://ideas.live.com.) A search in the Live.com home page service now will show results with option tabs at the top of the screen, one of which will restrict the search to Academic ("Web, News, Image, Local, Feeds, Academic…"). Unlike Google News or Froogle, Google Scholar has not yet been promoted to the Google home page, so searchers have to know enough to click on "more…." Speaking of Froogle, expect to see an announcement in the next few weeks of Windows Live Product Search, competing with Froogle and Yahoo!'s Shopping service, with some new features connecting users to consumer-based product information.