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Elsevier’s SciVerse Hub—Transforming Scientific Research
Posted On September 9, 2010
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Accelerating science—that’s the goal of Elsevier’s new integrated search and discovery tool, SciVerse. Launched in beta to current subscribers on Aug. 28, SciVerse features a fully searchable unified index of scientific content from Science Direct, Scopus, and Scirus and adopts a culture of collaboration by opening SciVerse to developers with an interest in designing and sharing applications in the scientific research ecosystem. SciVerse Hub, the platform for the unified search, includes metadata for 10 million full-text articles and 15,000 ebooks from Science Direct, 41 million abstracts from Scopus, and 23 million patent documents, 13 society sources, and 18 institutional repositories from 3rd party sources via Scirus.

SciVerse development began back in 2008, after Elsevier interviewed more than 3,000 researchers, librarians, and application developers to determine obstacles in scientific research. What they discovered, according to Rafael Sidi, vice president of product management and knowledge discovery solutions for Elsevier, was that “researchers don’t want to search multiple sites and they expect to find personalized information when they come to our platform.” Sidi and the Elsevier development team began working on a platform where “openness and interoperability within the products and the ability to personalize information are paramount.” These elements are certainly delivered, with the opening of content to application developers and the interoperability of SciVerse Hub with Science Direct, Scopus, and Scirus data. Elsevier’s shift to openness and collaboration between publishers, researchers, scientists, and librarians is already receiving much acclaim from the community.

Michael Cairns, former president of R.R. Bowker and currently managing partner of Information Media Partners says, “[F]or a publisher of this size and importance to academics, professionals and institutions this initiative should be considered quite important as it represents a significant (and logical) step in the evolution of information database publishing.”

While the search and discovery is definitely impressive, what makes this product so momentous is the SciVerse Applications marketplace. When launched, the marketplace will include a developer section with access to content, tools, and web services from which applications can be built and shared with the community. According to Sidi, “the opportunity exists to extract meaning from user interaction with the data and determine how to share this interaction back with the user in order to answer their questions.” Therefore, applications that enhance or customize a user’s experience by tailoring them to specific interests and workflow are vital. For example, locating articles that have been read by a researcher’s colleagues from around the world could be an application tailored for a researcher.

According to Sidi, the applications developed for SciVerse will be similar to what we have in other marketplaces and will include free and fee-based apps with the ability for individual ecommerce opportunities directed to individuals or institutions. The applications marketplace will be launched in beta towards the end of 2010 and will roll out to select customers. Others who wish to build an application may contact Elsevier for the API key. Elsevier hopes to present 10 to 15 applications to the community with the release of SciVerse Applications.

Currently, three free applications are available in the Hub, designed by NextBio, a platform discovery developer for life sciences data. These applications—methodology, context matching, and credibility—provide enhanced search and discovery of the methods and experimental procedures sections of articles in ScienceDirect (methodology), search terms in full sentences or paragraphs to help find the right content faster (context matching), and the most prolific authors for a given search topic from Scopus (credibility).

Applications won’t stop with the life sciences. Industry analyst David Bousfield of Outsell, Inc. stated, “Elsevier recently announced its partnership with the Publishing Network for Geoscientific & Environmental Data (PANGAEA), a curated repository linking primary research data to relevant journal articles from the earth and environmental sciences.” With Elsevier’s open partnership perspective, we can expect a variety of developers to deliver applications to suit the variety of information and personalization needs of scientists.

The SciVerse Hub interface’s initial design is based on customer feedback. Still under development, the Hub offers a variety of functionality including:

  • Single search of a unified index of scientific data
  • Seamless transition to Science Direct and Scopus for subscribers
  • Basic, advanced, and field searches where AND is the default operator
  • “Did you mean” spelling suggestions
  • 25 results per page sorted by relevance with the option for date descending
  • Search within results option
  • Facets to either include or exclude various dates and keywords
  • Icons indicating full text (Science Direct), abstract (Scopus), or external link (Scirus) for content
  • Search results in full sentences or paragraphs (easy toggle to select/deselect individual search terms)
  • Locate prolific authors based on the search terms, but not cited searches (non-Scopus subscribers will see the results, but if clicked, will be taken to a preview version of Scopus with limited functionality).
  • Search the methodologies and materials section of an article (only available on SciVerse Hub home page)
  • Approval by the American Disability Association

While the Hub offers the single search interface, users are returned to the native interface to retrieve the full text or abstracts of items. This is a seamless transition for subscribers using single sign-on technology. Content is displayed in the same window with options to return to the Hub using the back button. Transporting users to 3rd party websites however, opens a new window. One note of caution, Scopus documents are included in your Hub search results only if you have a Scopus subscription.

When asked if the Hub will eventually replace the need for Science Direct and Scopus interfaces, Sidi responded that he expects customer feedback to set the direction of the Hub. This feedback is encouraged by Elsevier; users are invited to offer suggestions through the contact us links on their pages. Several users responded to a questionnaire from Elsevier and were pleased with the simplicity of the single search features stating, “[I]t’s simple to find what we were looking for with one click” and “I like the blending of ScienceDirect, Scopus, and Scirus; it expands results beyond just Elsevier published titles.”

The unified index of the Hub provides ease of searching multiple sources at once, faster response times, results ranked by relevancy, and the de-duplication of items. Elsevier’s process provides relevant results based on the occurrence of search terms and also takes into account two additional components, the de-duping of the content and an even mix of content. During the de-duplication process, whichever record is considered the definitive version (Science Direct, 3rd party site, Scopus) will be the only record displayed, but for users who do not subscribe to Scopus, that record will come from either Science Direct or Scirus, regardless of the definitive version. FRBR techniques are not yet in place. SciVerse Hub strives to provide an even mix of content in the results as well, providing the most relevant articles based on one’s keyword, being agnostic to the Elsevier products.

Notwithstanding an interface that resides in beta, Elsevier has brought to market a transformational scientific research product with plenty of opportunity. As Bousfield states, “It's a bold start. As more partnerships are created to link relevant scientific information, researchers will be able to get more relevant data and content with fewer clicks and searches.” It will only be a matter of time before the scientific community executes the potential partnerships and application development for researchers to discover. For Sidi, the development and discovery will be an ongoing project “to understand users’ intent and bring contextual search results and more insightful and intelligent information to the customers.” He believes it will be a long journey and that SciVerse is a step in that journey. It’s a big step too. Godspeed, Elsevier.

Sue Polanka, head of reference and instruction at the Wright State University Libraries, blogs at No Shelf Required Blog.

Email Sue Polanka

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