Microsoft has released a search tool that will go head to head with the Google Scholar service.
The Windows Live Academic Search service, which is in beta form, allows users to search academic journals and other scholarly publications, said Danielle Tiedt, general manager of Windows Live Premium Search for Microsoft.
The company had previously confirmed the existence of the search tool, details of which were reported on the LiveSide blog two weeks ago, and said the first beta of it would be available sometime before late September. The Academic Search service has already been looked over by some academics.
One of those early testers of the service, Dean Giustini, a medical librarian at the University of British Columbia, also said the service would be available yesterday in a blog entry he wrote after a visit to Microsoft's campus to have a look at the search tool.
"Though its official worldwide launch is Tuesday 11 April 2006, a group of librarians and information professionals were brought in to review Microsoft's Academic Search," he wrote in the UBC Google Scholar Blog.Folio. "The librarians were asked to comment on the concept, look and functionality of the tool, one that is designed to go head to head with Google Scholar."
The verdict, at least from Giustini's perspective? "In short, I wasn't bowled over, but I wasn't disappointed either," he wrote in the posting. "Given the team have worked like demons for five months, they've come up with a useful tool. But it's only the start of what is likely to be a protracted period of product development."
In an interview yesterday, Giustini outlined in more detail how Academic Search stacks up to Google Scholar.
One missing element of Microsoft's tool is a feature of Google Scholar that enables users to search 'cited' material, he said. In Google Scholar, users can search for material where a person's work is cited or where he or she is quoted in the text. This feature is an important one for academic researchers and librarians, Giustini said.
He said he suggested that Microsoft add this feature to the tool and members of the Academic Search team said they "were looking into it".
Another Academic Search feature that is different from Google Scholar is the ability to set up custom searches by using macros, which users can either set up themselves or download from the Windows Live start page, Giustini said. While this enables users to narrow their searches, it also adds a technical step that less web- or computer-savvy users might find difficult to use.
Google Scholar currently allows users to search according to vertical channels of information, which is a less technical way for users to focus their searches, Giustini added.
Windows Live Academic Search is expected to give users the ability to view an abstract for an academic article in a search preview pane and also view the complete article, as long as it is not being hosted on a website that requires a subscription or is restricted-access.
The search tool also will enable users to view a complete academic journal article as long as they have a valid subscription to do so and purchase an article electronically using the British Library, among other features.
According to Tiedt, the initial release of Windows Live Academia Search will allow users to search for academic content in three subject areas: physical hard sciences, electrical engineering and computer sciences. Microsoft will add the ability to search for content in other subject areas over the next six months, at which point it's likely the company "will take the beta tag off" of the search tool, she said.