Jul 112007

A couple of weeks ago, Elsevier and FAST announced the launch of free online “topic pages” on scientific topics:

Elsevier… today announced a partnership with Fast Search & Transfer (FAST(tm)) to create a new free online resource for the scientific community. Hosted on Scirus, Elsevier’s free search engine for scientific information, Topic Pages will pull together a variety of highly relevant academic information on a particular scientific topic of interest to researchers on a single web page. The Topic Pages will utilize intelligent search capabilities from the FAST Enterprise Search Platform (ESP).

This strikes me as a great idea if done properly. But what surprises me about this is the feeble nature of the initial test sites, which you can view at these links. There’s not even so much as a hint of an RSS feed, let alone any ways for users to interact with the information (or each other) …

It takes a bit of imagination to envisage how useful these pages could be when presented with such a bare-bones attempt.

Perhaps it’s unfair, but I couldn’t help comparing these Topic Pages with the Nature Publishing Group’s Reports, which also offer an aggregation of information on particular topics (albeit aimed at a broader audience, with a mix of news and science), e.g.:

It seems unlike Elsevier to show publicly such an unfinished product – compare for example the extensive global testing and refinement programme that preceded the Scopus launch. In fairness, Elsevier clearly intend to develop the products before the official launch and to offer considerably expanded functionality, including (it sounds like) social features:

At the official Topic Page launch later this year, the functionality of the Topic Pages will allow scientists and researchers to alter the content and provide feedback, allowing each topic to be shaped by the suggestions made by the research community. Based on this community approach, Topic Pages might be expanded to include capabilities such as the ability for researchers to link to their bibliographies and comment on other researchers’ works. In addition, the Topic Pages will serve as a place to find peers, communicate with other scientists, upload and rate a wide variety of relevant sources and help to shape and influence the tools and information provided on the Topic Pages themselves.

This sounds quite exciting but such a leap from what has been shown so far. I’m all in favour of early beta versions and “getting it out there” but I do wonder if this hasn’t been exposed just a bit prematurely?

[For a more detailed report on the Topic Pages, see e.g Paula J. Hane, Scirus Partners With FAST and Elsevier Publishing to Create Topic Pages, Information Today NewsBreaks, June 26, 2007]

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