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Searcher Tip: Browsing Formats Improve at Dialog
Posted On September 21, 1998
Professional searchers rejoice whenever they see search systems add features that make the document selection process more accurate and precise. The Dialog Corporation has improved its basic browsing formats. As of October, searchers on almost all DIALOG databases will see a publication date added to the free title format (usually Format 6). They will also find a "free" format option for all files.

The addition of a publication date has become more important with the rise of alternative result display options, as well as cross-file searching. Normally, the DIALOG system displays results in a LIFO (last-in-first-off) fashion that mimics reverse chronology. However, most DIALOG searchers now use OneSearch multiple file scans, where the default display can move through multiple chronologies as the results pour out one database after another. For example, on a 20-file OneSearch result set, there might be up to 20 individual chronologies. Searchers can always sort the results ("Sort s#/all/pd,d"), but this gets tedious. The Target option allows searchers to relevance-rank results, which uses algorithmic analyses of result sets to bring the items most likely to please to the top of the list. However, no titleŚno matter how attractiveŚwill satisfy if it falls way outside the searcher's date limits. With the publication date automatically included in the title format, searchers have a constant reminder of chronological relevance.

The "free" format has operated in Dialog's DataStar service for some time, but not in all DIALOG files. Now searchers can simply enter "free" into their Type, Display, or Print commands (e.g. "Type s#/free/all"), similar to the KWIC format request. The "free" format will cover the usual numbered format that supplies the most information for free in a file. For example, many bibliographic files include a free format for display of descriptors (often Format 8), as well as a free title format (Format 6). However, in many files, Format 8Śand in some files, even Format 6Śmay invoke charges. These can prove a nasty surprise to searchers, particularly those doing OneSearch cross-file searching and not pre-checking the rates for each and every file included. Now searchers can simply enter "free" as their format option and the system will make sure users don't get any unanticipated charges.

In general, the publication date will occur in all the free browsing formats (usually Format 6 and often Format 8), however, according to Dialog's Libby Trudell, they will not add the publication date if the change would cause a Format to move from free to fee. Some contracts with database producers do not allow the viewing of the publication date without a royalty payment. However, wherever the supplier will allow the addition, it will occur, and Dialog is re-checking the licensing agreements, according to Trudell. They expect that a very high percentage of the free formats will offer the publication date.

Trudell said the decision to offer the "free" format DIALOG-wide stemmed in part from the increased use of named formats on DialogWeb. They also hoped it would promote browsing, a practical tool to improve the value of search results. As for the addition of the publication date to the title format, they have been working on that for some time. The change took place for all newspapers well over a month ago. At the same time, they began mapping to the free format.

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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