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Elsevier moves full text onto the Web

By RICHARD POYNDER

Richard Poynder previews ScienceDirect, which from next year will offer access to 1,200 journals from a browser interface

Elsevier has announced plans for ScienceDirect, a new Internet-based online service that will offer access to the full text of all 1,200 Elsevier Science journals from a standard web browser. Beta testing will start in the first quarter of 1997, with a commercial launch planned for 1st July.

"The initial service will focus on the life sciences and will consist of over 300 journals, including Brain Research, Trends in Biochemistry and Obstetrics & Gynaecology," said Karen Hunter, Vice President, Strategic Planning & Development at Elsevier Science. "The remainder will be up by the end of 1997." Elsevier hope to add third-party titles as well.

Journals will be viewable in either HTML or PDF format. "Anyone who wants to do a full-text search and see the results with the text highlighted will choose the HTML option," explained Ms Hunter. "The PDF format, on the other hand, will give them the look and feel of the page."

Users will also have access to a number of bibliographic databases, including EMBASE and Geobase, and there will be hypertext links to enable searchers to move seamlessly from references and abstracts to the full text of any journals available online. "Users like having a bibliographic layer," said Ms Hunter. "They want to be able to do a broad search, not simply search on those titles available."

Links will also be available to external Internet sources, provided these are not charged-for services. "There's a lot more work to be done before we can link to sites that require customers to be authenticated," Ms Hunter explained, "but we are talking to other publishers with a view to developing the necessary technology to allow validated customers to be passed between charged-for services."

Lexis-Nexis users will be able to search ScienceDirect using familiar system commands, and there will be both simple and advanced search options, including full Boolean functionality. More sophisticated search capabilities, including synonym searching, will be added later. Ms Hunter emphasised, though, that the service has been designed primarily for end-users.

Pricing is not yet finalised, but will be on a per-title subscription model, set by individual publishers. There will probably also be a service charge.

Ms Hunter anticipates ScienceDirect will prove very attractive to users, who "have been telling us that they want one-stop shopping." Just how attractive, clearly, will depend on the number of publishers that sign up. "We would like as many as possible to join us as we believe it will be to their advantage as well as ours," said Ms Hunter.

She went on to explain: "Many publishers are realising that while running a pilot with one hand-crafted web journal is one thing; publishing 20 or 150 journals is a very different matter. We offer them scalability, access to our technology and a low-cost route to a wide number of customers internationally."

ScienceDirect, she added, owes a lot to Reed Elsevier's acquisition of Lexis-Nexis last year. "About 50 per cent of the service will use Lexis-Nexis technology, which has a lot of experience in handling large databases and back-office systems like billing and customer support.

"It has developed out of Elsevier's experimental Tulip programme, which began offering local mounting of 45 Elsevier journals in 1993, and the Elsevier Electronic Subscriptions (EES) service, which offers all 1,200 Elsevier Science journals as scanned images for local hosting," explained Ms Hunter. "ScienceDirect will offer a more elegant solution, as we have now converted all our journals to SGML. It also means," she added, "that in future users will be able to host EES locally, access ScienceDirect remotely, or opt for a combination of the two."

This article was first published in Information World Review in November 1996.

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