transplanted goose

What's happening in online article indexing?

For many, many years, research was conducted in card catalogs (the real ones, with 3x5 cards stuffed in wooden drawers and held in place in the drawers by metal rods) and periodical indexes that came out monthly with an annual cumulation. There were a limited number of publishers producing indexes, which were defined largely by subject content. It was a pretty simple view of the information universe.

Computerized catalogs and indexes opened up access. All of a sudden, you could search by any word that might appear in the title or, if available, abstract, in addition to browsing by title, author, and subject heading.

Today, the number of publishers offering online article indexes has exploded, and the content of the indexes expanded to include the full text of journal articles and other materials. This has really changed the fundamental nature of these databases, turning them into publications that are more like journals (maybe we could call them "super" journals) than indexes or locators.

Pricing models for these indexes have also changed, evolving from a subscription basis to a variety of models, including pay-per-view and combination pricing for print and online versions of journals. I have a theory that at some point we're going to see one giant "super" database that offers free indexing to almost every journal, but offers access to full text on a pay-per-use or subscription basis.

Once indexing, or the "surrogate," was the content that brought home the bacon, but now the full text is the money-maker. Indexing will eventually become the "loss leader" of the information market, enticing researchers into purchasing directly from the provider. Services such as Ingenta and ScienceDirect are already, in effect, using this model, although they are still separate indexes. The open access movement (making academic journals freely available over the Internet) that is sweeping the academic world is an untenable model -- there's too much money tied up in the full text market.

If you're interested in seeing one vision of the future, take a look at EPIC 2015, an 8-minute Flash video that envisions a future where Google rules the information "grid." Fascinating stuff, and scary, too, because it's based on things that are happening right now.

An earlier version of this was written in response to a student discussion in the course Electronic Information & Research and published in the University of Oregon Applied Information Management program's AIM Connections newsletter, Spring 2006.

© 2006, colleen bell about / words