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OvidSP: A Long-Promised Search Platform Arrives
Posted On November 5, 2007
Since the acquisition of SilverPlatter Information by Wolters Kluwer Health ( in 2001 and the subsequent merging with Ovid Technologies (, customers and industry observers have awaited a new search platform that would merge the best of both systems along with new features. OvidSP has now arrived. The new service will replace Ovid Web Gateway, scheduled for discontinuance in early February 2008, and then SilverPlatter WEBSPIRS sometime in 1Q 2009. Designed to serve the needs of end-user and librarian searchers, OvidSP supports a simplified basic search and tags to reach fielded searches, as well as bridges to "Ovid Classic" and "SilverPlatter Classic" command line syntaxes. First reactions to the new interface by clients have been positive with some reservations, but questions remain as to whether the new platform has enough appeal to counter market challenges by competitors.

Ovid licenses its scholarly and health-related databases to medical schools, academic libraries, large hospitals and healthcare systems, and pharmaceutical, engineering, and biotechnology companies. According to Ovid, 13 million people worldwide have access to its system. Its databases include major collections of scientific and medical journals, medical textbooks, and bibliographic databases. Ovid reports its North American market includes 93 percent of medical libraries, 97 percent of teaching hospitals, and 87 percent of U.S. hospitals with more than 200 beds, as well as the top 30 pharmaceutical companies.

Ovid’s clients have been waiting for a single, improved platform for some time. Dennis Brunning, electronic humanities resources developer at the Arizona State University Libraries and a longtime user of SilverPlatter and Ovid, commented, "Since the company blended operations in 2002, its competitors, among them CSA, ProQuest, EBSCO, and Gale Group had slowly eroded Ovid Technologies’ position in AULC [Arizona Universities Libraries Consortium]. Pricing and sole sourcing had much to do with it. Equally, however, all of us were aware that Ovid Technologies was losing databases and not innovating its search software." Brunning recalls a presentation by Ovid in November 2005 that showed "a canned version of a best of breed product they were developing" with "most of the presentation focused on the careful user studies Ovid had undertaken to bring their customers—both SilverPlatter and Ovid—along to a state of the art solution."

When asked about the lengthy process involved in developing OvidSP, Andrew Popper (VP of marketing and product management at Wolters Kluwer Health Medical Research) indicated that, although starting the specifications had occurred quite some time ago, the contextual design had only begun this year. "The process started in February 2007. Some things we knew we wanted for the last couple of years. Very early this year we did a huge market study to determine needs and perceptions in the market for Ovid, SilverPlatter, and non-Ovid companies. We based a lot of our direction on that study in combination with work flow analyses with hundreds of users and librarians."

Kicking the Tires

OvidSP offers a set of features that merge the best of the old services with new end-user oriented features. I reviewed the announced features in an interview with three Ovid executives: Popper; Doug Webb, senior technical software engineer; and Connie Hughes, director of marketing communications. At this point, according to Popper, all the Ovid/SilverPlatter databases are accessible through OvidSP, although six of the SilverPlatter files are reached through a federated search feed of a search query. Popper expected the six to be moved onto OvidSP before year’s end.

OvidSP features include the following:

  • Multiple search modes now include Basic Search, a simplified search box, accompanied by tabs to reach field searches, plus access to the two familiar Ovid or SilverPlatter command modes. According to Webb, users will have to set "Include Related Terms" to get alternate word spellings or synonyms. Librarians administering the system may want to set that default or at least advise end users that they need to use it if only to ensure automatic singularization and pluralization of their search terms.
  • Natural language searching in the Basic Search with relevance-ranked results. Although the system will accept full sentences, Webb indicated that sticking to phrases with search terms would work better and ensure better relevance ranking. Also, the user must consider fielded searching separately, e.g., searching in the author-fielded options rather than entering a Basic Search query like "Give me recent articles by John Smith."
  • Simultaneous searching across all content types merges searches of books, bibliographic databases, and journals. The system also handles deduplication of search results. According to Webb, users can turn this feature on or off, e.g., if they are worried that a deduplication will eliminate full-text content in favor of an abstracted reference. The service is configurable.
  • A Find Citation feature allows users to identify bibliographic entries by digital object identifier (DOI) or other unique identifiers, such as ISSNs.
  • The Ovid SearchAid in the upper left-hand corner of each screen can help searchers narrow or broaden initial searches by refining by subject, author, or journal title, for example. The system will suggest related authors and journals based on the frequency with which each author and journal appears in initial search results. It will also display an analysis of search terms used by the service e.g., synonyms and spelling variants.
  • Find Similar Articles links to articles from a complete reference results display.
  • Results management tools include inline citation abstracts that let searchers expand or collapse abstract viewing, annotations with a yellow digital note icon to attach user comments to search results, the ability to sort and re-sort results by fields or databases, etc.
  • Daily RSS feeds can deliver electronic tables of contents (eTOCS) or AutoAlerts.
  • Compatible with other Ovid packages, such as the Ovid LinkSolver, Ovid SearchSolver, and QUOSA Information Manager. For the latter two services, Popper said migration was underway.

One glitch has emerged in librarian blog discussions on the new service. For some unexplained reason, users who do searches and then seek to broaden them by clicking on "Include Related Terms" often end up with results sets that are smaller than the initial searches using fewer terms. Otherwise, blog comments seem fairly favorable, or at least—for such a naturally nitpicking, tire-kicking, nose-sniffing group as professional searchers—balanced.

Is It Enough?

Can Ovid beat off its traditional information industry competitors with the new OvidSP platform? Can it slow down the Google-ization of its end-user market? Who can say? We’ll let Brunning have the final word:

We’ll let the market decide this. Personally, as an old SilverPlatter big customer—and as a veteran librarian and searcher—I like OvidSP. It co-mingles a simple basic interface with a feature rich array of advanced searching, displaying, and linking features. I can easily understand the customer base—the Ovid side and the SilverPlatter side—breathing a collective sigh of relief. OvidSP does what it needs to do and I would have loved it in November 2005. Today, unfortunately, OvidSP is only best of breed for its old customers. It is most of what they want and if the pricing is right it may have a chance to regain some search share from those companies who moved in the market in the new millennium.

The Google world is all about discovery of content no matter what format. Best of all, the search is free. How you get the content is up to you. This is a tall order for any technology company that remains in the "secondary publishing" arena. It is not Ovid Technologies[’] fault that seismic shifts are occurring in their space. Their own marketing strategy admits about as much. Yes, they provide an excellent finding and linking tool, but so do others. And all in this industry confront "search" industry economies—free to find and pay to play.

To gain big customers, I imagine OvidSP would need to incorporate federated search (to provide as great an amount of discovery over all databases, including Google Scholar), cover as much meta-data as, say, the new ProQuest, and aggregate as much content as ProQuest, EBSCOhost, and the new Gale. All of this would have to be priced right too. Best of breed would then become, for the time being, best of brood.

So does Ovid have any plans to accelerate its development efforts to meet the demands of a "Google world"? In announcing the new platform, Karen Abramson, president and CEO of Wolters Kluwer Health Medical Research, stated, "This is just the beginning, we will continue to evolve OvidSP and deliver the tools and products that meet ongoing end user and market demands."

Barbara Quint was senior editor of Online Searcher, co-editor of The Information Advisor’s Guide to Internet Research, and a columnist for Information Today.

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Comments Add A Comment
Posted By Beat Barblan11/8/2007 12:35:24 PM

The NLP-based Basic Search was designed to find the most relevant results, not all results. Since some searches could return an almost infinite set of results, the system has a manageable cut-off point of 500 results ranked by relevancy.

Each search result is assigned a score based on its relevancy to the search query and all results with the same score are grouped together. The number of groups (let’s call them “Scoring Groups”) varies depending on the number of results that are assigned the same score. We stop after the first group that brings the total result count past 500.If that group is large, the ending count may be a lot higher than 500.

The query "computed tomography {No Related Terms}" returns 900 equally-relevant results in MEDLINE. The query doesn't provide much information, so the system can't whittle the result down to the 500 or so that it prefers to return; all 900 results are equally-relevant, so they're all returned.

Here is another hypothetical example. Suppose that for a particular search, the scoring of the results returns the following:

Scoring group
(#1 being most relevant)
Number of results
with the same score
Total number of
results showing
1 5 5
2 14 19
3 37 56
4 14 70
5 79 149
6 289 438
7 367 805

Five of the results for this query were assigned a score of “1”; 14 a score of “2”; 37 a score of “3”; and so forth. We can see that the “Scoring Group” that brings the total over 500, Scoring Group “7”, contains 367 results, bringing the total number of results OvidSP shows to 805. If the last group, the one with a score of “7” had returned only 200 results, the total number of results shown would have been 638 (438 + 200). If Scoring Group “6” had included enough results to bring the total to over 500, say 359 for example, the total would have been 508 (149 + 359). No results from Scoring Group “7” would have been included.

Please note: the Scoring Groups are a “behind-the-scenes” tool and do not represent the number of stars assigned to a particular result in the result set and which range from 5 to 1 for each result from a Basic Search show on OvidSP.

Why was 500 chosen as the cutoff point for Basic Search results?
Based on our extensive end-user research, we found that users who are looking for the most relevant articles to their query- rather than doing an exhaustive literature search- rarely look at more than 100 results before accepting what they have, refining their search, or trying a new search. On the other hand, we want to have a sufficient amount of results. Based on this research, it was determined that five hundred is an appropriate set of results for Basic Search.

Beat Barblan
Senior Product Manager, Medical Research
Ovid Technologies

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