Discovery Services: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

This post was written by Abe on December 13, 2013
Posted Under: Marketing Announcements

It’s been 3 years now since the epic (I jest) showdown at the Charleston Conference between EDS and Summon, the EBSCO and ProQuest Discovery Services. I wrote extensively about these Discovery Services and the issues that they raise in one of our companies’ most popular blog articles:

Discovery Services: Over-Hyped and Under-Performed

Three years later a lot of the concerns that I raised are starting to be seen as real issues with Discovery Services by more and more peoplegood_bad_ugly and a plethora of blog articles have been published recently prompting me to inform our readers on what has been going on.

OK, so what good things can I say about Discovery Services. Discovery Services have become popular because they address issues with early generations of federated search products from competitors who shall remain nameless. Discovery Services return results quickly, and don’t have issues with connectors breaking, are perceived to be able to better rank results and are better able to filter results. Since I really don’t want to say too many good things about the competition let me point you to the following blog article which presents one of the most balanced reviews of Discovery Services that I have read:

8 Things we know about Web Scale Discovery systems in 2013

I would of course be remiss if I didn’t point out that our Explorit product is a next generation federated search product that has solved the issues with these early generation products. That’s the subject of another blog post.

Now for some of the bad. I’m going to focus on two areas: transparency and the “one shoe fits all”. Perhaps my biggest issue with Discovery Services is their lack of transparency. Discovery Services don’t make it easy (maybe impossible) to determine what content is in their index. Just because content from a particular publisher is included in their index, doesn’t mean that all content from that publisher is included in their index. Just because content from a particular journal is included in their index doesn’t mean that all content from that journal is included in their index. Recently I was speaking with a prospect who was evaluating Explorit vs. a Discovery Service and was surprised to find out that some specific physics content that was very important to them only went back 10 years. What about Discovery Services indexing meta-data only vs. meta-data and full-text. Do you know when full-text is indexed?

Discovery Services are aimed primarily at academic libraries. Their “one shoe fits all” approach means that it is hard for users to limit their searches to a particular set of content, e.g. engineering content, or music content or history content. Also, because of their “one shoe fits all” approach, Discovery Services are much less appropriate for specialized research areas such as medical research, legal research, energy research or pharmaceutical/life sciences research.

Now for the ugly. I’ve been writing and speaking at conferences for a while now on the issues that Discovery Services have, especially issues with being reliant on the relationships that they establish with content owners for what content they are able get into their indices and what content they are not able to get into their indices.

So just a few weeks ago Thomson Reuters, publisher of the popular database Web of Science, announced that they were pulling Web of Science content from all the major Discovery Services. Although, at least for now, Thomson Reuters backed-off this decision, Thomson Reuters highlighted one of the ugly things about Discovery Services, that they lack control of what goes into their services. I wrote about this in the recent blog post:

There’s Another Chink in the Discovery Services’ Armor

Continuing with the ugly, it is really problematic that the two major Discovery Services are companies that fiercely compete for libraries’ database subscription budgets and thus have no interest in including their competitor’s content in their index and when they reluctantly do so EBSCO will make sure that ProQuest and Gale content will rank low in EDS and ProQuest will make sure that their competitor’s content ranks low in Summon. Back in 2010 I wrote a blog article:

If Google might be doing it …

which addresses the concerns that every librarian should have with the lack of vendor neutrality by the Discovery Services.

Ed Chamberlain, a librarian in the UK laments on the problem that Discovery Services’ owners don’t play nice with each other in the recent blog article:

Discovery Vendors and pre-indexed data. What can be done?

Also you might want to read the following editorial asking Discovery Services to play nice:

Discovering Reciprocity

In conclusion, enough concerns have been raised about Discovery Services that NISO, the National Information Standards Organization, has recently released a draft recommended practice as part of their Open Discovery Initiative:

Promoting Transparency in Discovery

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