When it comes to seeking and retrieving scholarly content, databases like PubMed, Web of Science, and Scopus are well established go-to resources. In the last 5 years, mainstream tools like Google Scholar and ResearchGate disrupted learned publishing and academic library supply chains – right alongside the dawning of web-scale library discovery services like Summon and EDS.
In this rapidly evolving market, it’s great to see that there is already a new generation of cutting edge search tools, challenging the status quo and offering information users new avenues to the research literature. There are three new services in the content discovery marketplace that stand out and deserve our collective attention. They share some key qualities, and yet each offers a truly unique solution to specific use cases and common challenges of today’s scholarly and professional content discovery experience.
- Yewno is a VC-funded start-up, gaining notably positive response from academic librarians in its first year. Powered by an “inference engine” using computational analysis and a concept map, it intends to supplement institutional discovery, adding visualized browse options to search results pages to expose relationships between ideas, authors, and publications.
- ScienceOpen, launched in 2013, is a privately funded independent start-up that hopes to compliment open-web discovery. Their feature-rich site draws users from mainstream search engines to more precisely search and filter content using their index built by a web of citation-level relationships, referring readers to publisher or aggregator platforms for full-text access.
- TrendMD is tackling discovery outside of search altogether, instead enabling links to related articles across publishers within the context of reading a full-text item on a content platform. Launched in 2014, TrendMD is a Y Combinator startup and serves as a classic “onward journey tool” that aims to generate relevant recommendations serendipitously, thereby growing usage.
All three of these new discovery tools aim to offer greater precision in content discovery across the world of relevant resources. They know that comprehensive search is important, but not all users care to drink from the Google firehose. These new services are focused on sharpening researchers’ tools for filtering the noise of information overload from web-scale search – something the current giants of mainstream and institutional discovery software have not perfected.
These new services aim to increase the contextual presentation of links to full-text content, but are going about in unique ways. TrendMD is focused on recommending related content to users reading or evaluating full-text publications, and making cross-publisher linkages appealing to oft-competitive content providers. ScienceOpen wants to harness user surfing the open web and lead them to a promised land with sharper search tools alongside a host of other research tools. Yewno is working to capture institutional users and offer them another way to explore resources subscribed by their library, supporting both educational and research aims.
Remarkably, all three new entrants are leveraging the latest in semantic technologies, text/data mining, and machine learning to iteratively improve as both indexed content and user activity grow. This will likely be a key differentiator, even in the face of the mighty forces behind Google Scholar. However, like their established competitors, the three are focused on information discovery and evaluation, leaving access controls and download authentication rights to the publisher and library systems to manage. As the longest running, TrendMD is already demonstrating measurable impacts on product usage – metrics which will vary slightly for Yewno, given their focus on the institutional library market.
These new tools have taken user-centered approaches to their development of scholarly discovery software. Each organization is born of and rooted in the researcher experience, which sets them apart from many of their competitors. Each one grew out of a passionate wish to address specific research use cases and make immediate improvements to users’ ability to quickly and accurately zero in on the most relevant material at the point-of-need.
Lack of relevance and context is a common pain point for advanced users like graduate students, instructors, and practitioners; those who we might call the “power users” of academic discovery services. To a degree, these new services are somewhat biased toward serving these power users, who are more likely to care about search precision and use filtering features (studies show younger users avoid search filters, as demonstrated by work from Deirdre Costello, among others). This likely points to these three services not being any direct threat to established web-scale library discovery services, which aim to serve a diverse group of institutional information seekers.
TrendMD and ScienceOpen were founded with a focus on medicine and life sciences, which they’re both working hard to extend across educational fields to appeal to multidisciplinary users at all levels. Yewno started out with a broad discipline focus, aiming not only to enhance the discovery experience, but also deliver deeper answers and develop the critical thinking skills to their users. Therefore, these three newbies have quite a hill yet to climb, in their hopes to cover a critical mass of published literature and address the full scope of academic discovery use cases. Comprehensive resource coverage and breadth of publisher participation will be a key challenge for these new services, which continues to plague all of their current competitors. This aim for both breadth and depth could put them at risk of losing some of the magic of their targeted discovery solutions that were launched to improve specific elements of the research discovery experience.
These are exciting times to be in the business of scholarly content discovery – and these three new services represent a host of researcher-centric innovations on the horizon, promising to keep the market lively for years to come.