Working together to discover information

Share this on social media:

Elsevier's ScienceDirect platform is now 10 years old. We ask Rafael Sidi, the company's VP of product development, how things have changed over that time and what the future holds

How has ScienceDirect developed?

When we started in 2000 we initially had just a few journals on the platform and about one million articles. The following year we launched the ScienceDirect backfiles initiative, a project to digitise all our journals back to volume one, and began offering free linking to over 10,000 journals from article references as well as A&I databases.

Over time we have added many more journals and articles. ScienceDirect now has around 10 million articles. We also added industry standards like CrossRef for journal linking and the COUNTER Code of Practice for reporting usage statistics, and we work with Portico on preservation issues.

The user growth has been tremendous. Customers say that they like our content breadth, and find it comprehensive and trustworthy. They also like the platform’s performance and the features and functionality that make information easy to find. We have also had tremendous feedback from customers about the addition of e-books to ScienceDirect in 2007. This means that users can search journals and books in the same platform.

We also added the capability for authors to embed video and audio in their articles much like they would have used a figure in the print world.

What significant developments have there been?

In 2007 we deployed FAST Enterprise Search Platform to provide a more powerful search experience and in 2008 we began partnering with QUOSA to introduce Document Download Manager, a feature that enables researchers to download multiple full-text articles simultaneously.

We are starting to open up our platform to third parties. For example, we have a partnership with NextBio to integrate its ontology-based semantic tools for genes and pathways into our platform. We also strongly believe in linking to datasets and recently started partnering with the geosciences data provider PANGAEA to do reciprocal linking.

With all those partnerships a key factor is interoperability with our products or external products, such as between ScienceDirect and Reaxys. Via NextBio we are also linking to PubMed, and we link to other publishers via CrossRef.

How has usage changed?

Many users now come from third parties such as Google and GoogleScholar, federated searches and A&I databases. That’s been a real change. In the early days users tended to go directly to the journal platform.

The article page has become the new landing page. Publishers need to think what we can do to enhance the search experience from the article and also to add the element of serendipity to the search. Once users land on an article page, they often do another search within ScienceDirect.

What does the future hold?

Opening up and interoperability are going to be key. NextBio was the first example of opening up and bringing more third parties to the platform. In the future there will be other third-party developers looking to bring solutions to users’ problems, and the platform is going to become more open.

Our users should be able to create personalised lenses across vast, diverse stores of semantically-enriched content to find precise information. They may also want to filter this information through their trusted social knowledge networks. Providing a better aggregation tool where users can get synthesised information will be crucial too. Our vision is to bring other third-party developers into our platform where they can innovate using our content APIs and then encourage them to build applications that can solve users’ search and discovery problems.

We seek a new level of collaboration, because we understand that we can’t solve all users’ problems on our own. We need to provide workflow solutions to users. We want to partner with the scientific community and enable scientists to put their applications on our platforms. They are already building applications using text-mining tools, but these developments are not being exposed globally.

I really think there is a keen interest in the scientific community to develop applications using our content and other scientific information. We believe that collaborating in this manner will accelerate science. We want to help make that possible, and collaboration and APIs are critical elements that guide our plans for the future.

Interview by Siân Harris