Dialog Corp. (http://www.dialog.com) has become the first of the traditional commercial online services to offer users full linking from citations appearing in abstract/index databases to electronic versions of the journals. Users of the newly announced Dialog E-journal feature must have electronic subscription agreements in place to use the service. However, once they clear the path and register their local holdings with Dialog, links to image versions of the articles available from publisher or aggregator Web services will appear.
With Dialog's entry into the hot field of digital linking, the use of links in the corporate marketplace should accelerate. Dialog executives also promise to work vigorously to open up E-journal service to pay-per-view, transactional use. Pay-per-view links have recently been added for Investext and ProQuest image products on Dialog platforms.
Although users of Dialog's E-journal service must subscribe to the scientific, technical, and medical (STM) journals now to satisfy the requirements of partnering publishers and aggregators, Dialog itself offers the service to all its users, regardless of whether they use a flat-fee subscription or transactional option in their arrangements with Dialog. Most exciting, Dialog does not charge anything extra for the new E-journal feature.
At present, the E-journal service links to the electronic versions of over 8,000 STM journals from over 50 scientific publishers and information aggregators. The list of publishers and aggregators (available at http://products.dialog.com/products/ejournal/aggregators.html) includes such firms as John Wiley & Sons, SwetsNet, Information Quest, EBSCO Online, HighWire, CatchWord, ingenta, and Elsevier ScienceDirect, as well as scholarly societies like the American Physical Society, American Chemical Society, and IEEE.
The list of 21 abstract/index databases equipped with E-journal links (http://products.dialog.com/products/ejournal/files.html) includes most of the STM megabases on Dialog, e.g., BIOSIS, SciSearch, Compendex, Embase, Inspec, International Pharmaceutical Abstracts, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, Pascal, etc. The E-journal links work on specific Dialog Web platforms: DialogWeb, DialogSelect, Dialog1, and the Dialog Intranet Toolkit. According to David Brown, senior vice president of content development at Dialog, the links do not work with Dialog Classic.
Plans are underway to expand the collection of journals covered. Paul Colucci, senior vice president of product development, indicated that Dialog intends to add additional journals and other information links in the financial, news, and business areas. When asked whether Dialog had considered working with OCLC and its electronic collection, Roy M. Martin Jr., Dialog's president and CEO, said to send OCLC its way ("We'd be happy to work with OCLC.").
Users of E-journal register the journals to which they have approved electronic access through subscriptions from publishers or aggregators representing publishers by using the E-journal Subscription Manager. The software allows users to set different subscription groups to manage access to different journals. Passwords may be required by publishers or aggregators before viewing an article, but the Dialog software supports domain authentication that can eliminate the need to enter passwords each time.
Once activated, users will see hyperlinks appear at the top of abstract records retrieved in search results for just the partners and journals registered through the Subscription Manager. Clicking on the link will open a new browser window displaying the page on the publisher/aggregator site. In most cases, the article will appear in Adobe PDF format, but sometimes in HTML.
Headquartered in Cary, North Carolina, with direct operations in 32 countries worldwide, Dialog has accounts with over 25,000 business, professional, and government organizations in over 100 countries. The new linking feature was apparently driven, in part, by the interest of corporate users in the pharmaceutical, engineering, space, biotech, material science, petroleum, and chemical industries. Brown stated: "All these industries require diversity of information and rely on secondary publishers, especially abstracts in the science and technology fields, but they also represent a major demand for primary literature. The Fortune 2000 subscribe to lots of e-journal titles."
As for the issue of pay-per-view, Brown pointed to Dialog's long tradition of transactional access and promised that the company would try to bring this model to all its offerings. Martin indicated that even though pay-per-view was not supported by E-journal today, the company was working toward it. Other Dialog linking services, such arrangements with Investext and ProQuest, already have the linking facilities for pay-per-view in place.
I asked Martin whether the new service could put Dialog in competition with sister services in the Thomson family for the academic market or whether Dialog was restricting the service to corporate clients only. He said: "Dialog has been in the academic market since its inception. Increasingly we are partnering with Gale, ISI, and other Thomson companies that have a different presence in that market, but if customers in any market came to us, we would absolutely want to do business with them."
This opens up an interesting possibility. Dialog's long-standing commitment to transactional pricing options offers the best hope for the widest level of access to electronic journals. Academic librarians concerned with the online searching environments of students after they leave the campus setting might consider the post-academic viability of Dialog as a reason to support and teach the service on campus. Another factor could influence academic librarians' decision making. Driven in part by pressure from authors, especially the Public Library of Science (PLoS) rebellion against high-priced digital journals, major commercial STM publishers have begun to relax and remove access restrictions. For example, Elsevier has announced that subscribers to journals in print can access the full ScienceDirect collection by paying pay-per-view charges for articles from journals to which they do not subscribe. (See Dick Kaser's interview with Derk Haank in the February 2002 issue of Information Today or at http://www.infotoday.com/it/feb02/kaser.htm) If this policy spreads among STM publishers and Dialog meets its commitment to expand pay-per-view access, users could see a virtual library emerging of sizable proportions.
Ironically, the one area of full-text article linking the new system will not cover is Dialog's own full text. Searchers who locate a citation in one database that matches an article carried by Dialog in a separate full-text database have never been able to simply instruct the system to "fetch" the full text. Instead, they have to make separate individual searches for each article retrieved. The system will not even alert them to the availability of the full-text article in another file. But hope springs eternal. Martin said: "We've been discussing that problem for a year. Look to the next generation of our products over the next couple of years. We will have greatly enhanced our own holdings. It will not only be good for the vendor but great for our customers."
Linking is not just a technical task. Brown pointed to some of the complexities involved when one starts introducing links. "The challenge in linking is to get a firm idea of what the customer wants. Because of Dialog's breadth of content, there's a question of what a link should mean. For example, should a link to an author name mean to other papers in the same database, in other databases, in E-journal links, or pay-per-view?" Colucci commented, "At the end of the day, we want people to come to us for information with confidence that we will get it no matter what it takes—local holdings, publisher or aggregator Web sites, document delivery, full-text access. Dialog will supply the ‘appropriate copy.'" Martin said, "We consider linking as a nice way to enhance our value proposition going forward."