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Elsevier Holds Official Launch Events for Scopus
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Posted On November 15, 2004
The official U.S. launch of Scopus was held at the New York Academy of Sciences on the evening of Nov. 10. The British launch was Nov. 3 in London, and a launch is scheduled for Tokyo on Nov. 18. The product debut concludes 8 months of publicity and build-up, following the product announcement last March (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=16494). Scopus claims to offer a "user-centered" approach to finding focused information from an abstract and indexing database of more than 14,000 scientific, technical, and medical (STM) and social sciences titles from 4,000 publishers, as well as 167 million STM-focused Web sites.

The welcome letter described it as a "day of exploration and celebration." A press briefing and luncheon were held earlier in the day. So, was it a bar mitzvah, a wedding, or a product launch? Despite the semi-formal attire, the flow of champagne, and the lovely departing gifts, it was definitely a product launch, and actually a rather low key one at that.

Invited guests included the developing partner institutions and the early trialists, but most of the 80 or so attendees seemed to be from Elsevier itself. Yes, this is indeed an Elsevier product, although the name was nowhere to be seen at the event or on any of the nametags or branded packaging of favors (including the "SCOPUS" bottle of champagne that had tiny lettering indicating it came from California).

After cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, the evening began with a cordial welcome from Darrell Gunter, senior vice president of sales, Americas, academic and government accounts. He quickly introduced Eefke Smit, managing director of ScienceDirect and Bibliographic Databases. After praising and crediting several people in the room, particularly Scopus director Jaco Zijlstra, Smit declared the product to be a new step in Elsevier's strategic direction, citing three specific areas:

  1. First, in the area of content, Scopus is an example of a workflow tool that improves the productivity of the researcher, fitting in with the theme of "finding not searching."
  2. The second step is the much-touted development process that included the university partners and extensive end-user testing right from the start of the project.
  3. The third step deals with the continuing development of the product that will evolve from future user feedback.

Smit acknowledged the accusations of arrogance and "not listening" that have been leveled at Elsevier so widely throughout the library community. According to Smit, Scopus surely must be evidence that Elsevier is finally listening to its customers and users, since these groups not only participated in the product's development at every step of the way, but also initiated its creation by their desire for an easy and serendipitous research tool. (Smit's presentation in Annecy, France, in October of this year illuminates the topic in more detail; see http://www.infonortics.com/chemical/ch04/slides/smit-2.pdf.)

For the testing and user trials, the Scopus team worked with more than 300 researchers and librarians from 21 development partners. But, so far, the only announced paying customers for Scopus are the University of Toronto, the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, and the University of Newcastle in Australia.

Keynote speaker Brian Greene, a noted physicist, gave a riveting presentation on his favorite theme (the relationship of time and space and string theory), which he and researchers at Columbia University are working hard to prove. Greene graciously answered questions, signed some books (his best seller, The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory, W.W. Norton & Company, 1999), and then it was time for the marketing.

Before the buffet dinner, Gunter invited the guests to wander among the four laptop stations and ask questions of the development team members assigned to each. They were to represent the celebration and exploration of four themes: "Feels good," "Finding not searching," "Glimpses of the Future," and "Exploring."

"Feels good" turned out to be a description of the usability testing of the product, a point that is emphasized and hammered home at every opportunity. More information can be found in the first of a series of Scopus white papers at: http://www.info.scopus.com/news/whitepapers/wp1_usability_testing.pdf.

We were given an example of one feature that finally found inclusion and screen placement after much experimentation. This was the "refine results" box that appears at the top of search results. Customization allows the user to manipulate this box in three different ways, including removing it from the screen altogether.

In response to my question, I was told that the mix of testers was 20 percent librarians, 80 percent end users. One of the key points presented at the end of this mini-PowerPoint presentation was the fact that librarians will not have to train anyone to use this product. So much for job security!

"Glimpses of the Future" finally gave me a look at how this product may be positioned against the Thomson ISI Web of Science. Developers are working on a citation analysis display that actually looked quite useful and includes a method for excluding self-citations. Regarding this competitive stance, when I asked one of the developers why Scopus had initially been touted as a "citation" product rather than the current A&I description, he admitted that this did not mean "cited reference" and that the sales people didn't really interpret the term as librarians did. The Web of Science, of course, tracks cited references for all of its articles and already has an analysis tool (introduced earlier this year).

Thompson ISI is not taking all of this lying down, however. On the very day of the launch, it announced the imminent release of 45 years of backfiles and described its product not only as multidisplinary, but also as focused on the most influential and important published research. Elsevier claims that just 10 years of backfiles account for 86 percent of the usage of reference backfiles. This may be the new rallying cry of each of these marketing departments—the quality and/or quantity argument, or, as Thomson ISI declared in its press release, "excellence not excess."

One thing that struck me during the evening was the enthusiasm and pride of the project managers and developers. Several of them expressed to me the joy of working on a project where they had quite a bit of free rein to really listen to users (which I interpret as opposed to the marketers), and where users were brought into the project so early in the development process. I also learned that the product was named after a North African bird known for its navigational skills. But, perhaps you librarian-types already knew that.

One of the constant promotional themes on all Scopus literature asks, "Wouldn't you?" As I found out at the launch, it's supposed to imply that if you had this wonderful product to assist you in your research, you'd use it, wouldn't you? Only time (and perhaps appropriate pricing) will tell if we will. Elsevier obviously has put great resources into this product and pinned great hopes on its adoption, but, as one of my fellow attendees put it, until Scopus proves its uniqueness, it won't change much of the market share. For more information, visit Scopus at http://www.info.scopus.com.


Susan Fingerman is manager of science and technology information services at the R.E. Gibson Library, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

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