10th Anniversary Series: Helping Researchers See Farther Faster

Monday, September 8, 2014 | 5:00 PM

Google Scholar will soon be 10 years old. It is amazing how time flies. Seems like it was just yesterday that Alex and I were scrambling to put everything in place for the launch. To help celebrate the anniversary, we have invited friends and colleagues in scholarly communication to share their thoughts. About Scholar, about scholarly communication and about future directions. These will appear in a 10th anniversary blog post series. The first post in the series is by John Sack, the founding director of HighWire Press. - Anurag Acharya


Helping Researchers See Farther Faster


John Sack, Founding Director, HighWire Press

HighWire Press started at Stanford University almost 20 years ago -- we launched the Journal of Biological Chemistry Online in early 1995 -- about the same time that Google's founders were working in the same Stanford Quadrangle on the foundations for Google.  It took until 2002 to get our two efforts together and index HighWire-hosted scholarly articles in Google.  This project increased usage of the articles by one to two orders of magnitude, even though their abstracts had been fully indexed in PubMed right from the start. Two years later, in 2004, Google Scholar arrived.

In the twenty years since HighWire began, and in the ten years since Google Scholar beat a path to the door of scholarship, what have we achieved?   We know the answer to that question from interviews we did in 2002 and again in 2012-2014 with over sixty researchers.

Back in 2002, people still used the word "e-Journal" to describe the electronic version of a "print journal". Researchers told us they needed better ways to locate content across all the different sources of full-text – publisher sites each had their own separate search engines, and PubMed searched only abstracts.

We collectively solved that problem -- publishers took a big leap in providing the Google indexer with access to subscriber-only content.  So when HighWire asked Stanford researchers in 2012 interviews about the challenges of searching, they said:

   "Finding is easy..."
   ....but reading is hard."

We had so well-solved the search problem that people found more than they could handle. This wasn't just a relevance-ranking problem -- useless stuff showing up in search results. There was important material in those results and it needed to be evaluated to satisfy a researcher's sense of thoroughness.

Reading Faster


To “read” many articles in a short period of time, researchers want to be able to absorb the gist of an article quickly, and be able to judge its quality and relevance.  In our interviews with researchers, we heard strong support for adding visual abstracts to articles (as the American Chemical Society has been doing for years in all of its journals); for adding "take home messages" to articles indicating the significance of an article in the context of what is known and what the article adds (often found in clinical journals, like the BMJ, but now also appearing in basic-science journals such as PNAS and the JBC); and for a contextualized 'figure reading' experience (such as is found in the Lens viewer introduced in eLife).

All of these help researchers take in an article faster. None of these aids is available from Scholar search results, so readers must visit the sites where the full text is found. This “pogo-sticking” from search result to article and back and forth may seem normal and natural to us in the publishing industry. But as consumers we rely on Google showing augmented search results: if Google results stopped showing movie and restaurant “star” ratings, and restaurant price range “$$$” in its search results we’d think there was a bug!

How can Google Scholar meet this "read faster" challenge? How search evolves on this front will affect how researchers and publishers do their work of finding audiences.

Contextualization of References


One way to speed scholarly literature research would be to improve the “directedness” of search results -- don't just give me a list of articles, but give me or get me to paragraphs in context. Clearly Scholar knows the context for matching a query's criteria since it shows a snippet from the text.   Why not have Scholar and publisher sites collaborate a bit more to help readers get quickly from a result list to the first paragraph that matches a search, then on to the next matching paragraph, and so on.

And if Scholar can do that with search results, perhaps it can also help us with the too-arduous task of going from a citation embedded in an article, to the specific part of the cited article that is being referenced. Book references contain page numbers; why should journal articles be less specific?

Perhaps we can see how unhelpful this is by stepping out of our scholarly-publishing tradition and shifting to the consumer context: Imagine if a Google search provided you with a link to only the web site (i.e., home page) rather than to the specific page on a site that matched your search!  That's what we settle for with scholarly journal references.

Searching For Images


We know from researcher interviews that in some fields people don't start by reading the article text per se, they "read" the images and then look at the narrative around the images for context.  In some fields, figures tell the story -- just as in graphic novels and comic books, I suppose! -- and an article is figures woven together by text.   This isn’t only for disciplines that are visual in the traditional sense, but perhaps as true for equations in a physics article, structures in a chemistry article, or tables in a clinical-trial article.

So why not make it possible to search images by searching the figure legend, or text in a figure or table, or closed caption in a video. Google already provides a basic image search. Perhaps if publishers would provide Scholar with rights to display low-resolution article images – the visual equivalent of a snippet – we could have a scholarly version of image search.

There are great opportunities for innovation ahead of us. We will need to take some risks, build experiments and collaborate across boundaries between stakeholders. That’s what we have done for the past decade, and look how far we have come -- “finding is easy”!

Fresh Look of Scholar Profiles

Thursday, August 21, 2014 | 8:34 PM

Summer's at an end… while the predictions of the much needed (in California) El NiƱo may or may not prove accurate, the season's ripe to put a fresh coat of paint on the Scholar Citations profiles.

We're rolling out a complete visual refresh, along with several usability improvements. Your publications are taking the center stage, while their aggregate citation metrics are moving to the sidebar. The "Follow" button is graduating to a more prominent spot, to make it easier for your fellow researchers to keep up with your latest articles. Working with a long list of publications is becoming more straightforward — you can load up to a thousand articles onto a page; and the "Merge", "Delete", and "Export" buttons always stay within easy reach on top of the screen.



The new modern profiles are easy to read on just about any device: 3-inch phones, 10-inch tablets, 24-inch desktops, and everything in-between. Really, everything. I gave it a spin on eight desktop browsers, two laptops, six phones, and three tablets. The new layout is more compact, especially on the smaller screens, and the controls are now larger and more finger-friendly. Just like in Scholar search.



We've also made it easier to print a nice, clean version of your profile. Your browser's "print" button now removes the sidebar and the controls, and prints just the list of articles with a brief summary header. Pro tip: to print more than twenty articles, click "Show more" at the bottom of the profile. If you wish to repeat the table header on top of every page, you'll need to use Firefox or Internet Explorer to print your profile; current versions of Chrome and Safari only print the header on the first page.



Needless to say, this is an excellent time to review your Scholar Citations profile, and make sure your information is up to date. Perhaps you have moved to another university? Or made a new homepage? Or maybe you've configured manual updates of your publications, and haven't had a chance to review the update emails for months? We haven't changed any entries as part of this visual refresh — nor did we change your metrics, I hope, — but if you haven't updated your Scholar profile for some time, it'd be great to give it a quick look.Three quarters of Scholar search results pages currently show links to the authors' public profiles. Chances are that someone's looking at yours too.

Posted by: Alex Verstak, Software Engineer

2014 Scholar Metrics released

Thursday, June 26, 2014 | 5:24 PM

Scholar Metrics provide an easy way for authors to quickly gauge the visibility and influence of recent articles in scholarly publications. Today, we are releasing the 2014 version of Scholar Metrics. This release is based on citations from all articles that were indexed in Google Scholar as of mid-June 2013 and covers articles published in 2009–2013.

Scholar Metrics include journal articles from websites that follow our inclusion guidelines, selected conference articles in Computer Science & Electrical Engineering and preprints from arXiv, SSRN, NBER, and RePEc. As in previous releases, publications with fewer than 100 articles in the covered period, or publications that received no citations are not included.

You can browse publications in 8 broad areas like Physics & Mathematics or Life Sciences & Earth Sciences as well as 253 specific categories such as Physical Education & Sports Medicine or Plasma & Fusion. You will see the top 20 publications ordered by their five-year h-index and h-median metrics. To see which articles in a publication were cited the most and who cited them, click on its h-index number. To see the list of categories in an area, click on the area and then click on “Subcategories”.

Scholar Metrics also includes a large number of journals beyond those listed on the per-category pages. You can find these by typing words from the title in the search box, e.g., [Otorrinolaringologia].

In this release, we have discontinued seven categories that either had too few publications or that fully overlapped with other categories: Microscopy, European Studies, Circadian Rhythms & Sleep, Real-time & Embedded Systems, Back & Spine Health, Lipids, and Cryogenics & Refrigeration. Publications in these categories can now be found in other categories or by searching for words in their titles, e.g., [sleep], [microscopy].

For more details, see the Scholar Metrics help page.

Posted by: Helder Suzuki, Software Engineer

Google Scholar Library

Tuesday, November 19, 2013 | 11:30 PM

Today we’re launching Scholar Library, your personal collection of articles in Scholar. You can save articles right from the search page, organize them by topic, and use the power of Scholar's full-text search & ranking to quickly find just the one you want - at any time and from anywhere. You decide what goes into your library and we’ll provide all the goodies that come with Scholar search results - up to date article links, citing articles, related articles, formatted citations, links to your university’s subscriptions, and more. And if you have a public Scholar profile, it’s easy to quickly set up your library with the articles you want - with a single click, you can import all the articles in your profile as well as all the articles they cite. Click here and follow the instructions to get started.



Here’s how it looks. Click “Save” below a search result to save it to your library. Click “My library” to see all the articles in your library and search their full text. You can also use labels to organize your articles. To get you started we’ve created two labels, “My Citations” and “Cited by me”, based on your Scholar profile, if you have one. “My Citations” contains your profile articles and “Cited by me” contains articles you’ve cited. See our help page for more details.

We hope you enjoy your personal collection with all the Scholar goodies!

Posted by: James Connor, Software Engineer

2013 Scholar Metrics released

Wednesday, July 24, 2013 | 8:33 PM

Scholar Metrics provide an easy way for authors to quickly gauge the visibility and influence of recent articles in scholarly publications. Today, we are releasing the 2013 version of Scholar Metrics. This release covers articles published between 2008 and 2012.

Scholar Metrics include journal articles from websites that follow our inclusion guidelines, selected conference articles in Computer Science & Electrical Engineering and preprints from arXiv, SSRN, NBER, and RePEc. As in previous releases,  publications with fewer than 100 articles in 2008-2012, or publications that received no citations over this period are not included.

You can browse publications in broad areas like Chemical & Material Sciences, Physics & Mathematics, or Life Sciences & Earth Sciences as well as specific categories such as Computing Systems, Software Systems, Accounting & Taxation or Plasma & Fusion. You will see the top 20 publications in the area ordered by their five-year h-index and h-median metrics. To see which articles in a publication were cited the most and who cited them, click on its h-index number.

This release is based on citations from all articles that were indexed in Google Scholar as of mid-July 2013. Since the previous release was based on citations from all articles indexed as of mid-Nov 2012, which is quite a bit later in the calendar year, the new numbers are expected to be a bit lower. Rest assured that this does not indicate that your favorite journal has become less influential over this short period.

For more details, see the Scholar Metrics help page.

Posted by: Helder Suzuki, Software Engineer

Updated Scholar Metrics: Now Grouped by Research Area

Thursday, November 15, 2012 | 4:30 PM

Earlier this year, we launched Scholar Metrics which provides an easy way for authors to quickly gauge the visibility and influence of recent articles in scholarly publications. Today, we are updating Scholar Metrics to make it easier for you to explore publications in research areas that you are interested in.

To get started, you can browse publications in broad areas like Engineering & Computer Science, Health & Medical Sciences, or Social Sciences. You will see the top 20 publications in the area ordered by their five-year h-index and h-median metrics. To see which articles in a publication were cited the most and who cited them, click on its h-index number.

To explore more specific research areas, select one of the broad areas, click on the "Subcategories" link and then choose one of the options. For example: Databases & Information Systems, Development Economics, Virology or Composite Materials.

We use a statistical model based on the articles published in the last five years to compute the set of publications associated with each research area. Recognizing the multi-disciplinary nature of many publications, our model allows a publication to be associated with more than one research area.

Browsing by research area is, as yet, available only for English publications. As previously, you can browse the top 100 publications in several languages. You can, of course, also search for specific publications by words in their titles.

Scholar Metrics currently covers articles published between 2007 and 2011. It only includes journal articles from websites that follow our inclusion guidelines, selected conference articles in Computer Science & Electrical Engineering and preprints from arXiv, SSRN, NBER, and RePEC. Scholar Metrics does not include publications with fewer than 100 articles, nor publications that received no citations in 2007-2011.

The metrics are based on citations from all articles that were indexed in Google Scholar as of November 15, 2012. Since our previous metrics were based on citations from all articles indexed as of April 1, 2012, the new numbers are expected to be a bit higher. Alas, that does not indicate that your favorite journal has become more influential over this short period.

For more details, see the Scholar Metrics help page.

Posted by: Helder Suzuki, Software Engineer

Cite from search results

Wednesday, October 17, 2012 | 1:30 PM

I remember writing research papers as a student and being frustrated at the tedium of formatting citations according to the strictures of the Modern Language Association.  Today we’re simplifying this process by adding the ability to copy-and-paste formatted citations from search results.  To copy a formatted citation, click on the “Cite” link below a search result and select from the available citation styles (currently MLA, APA, or Chicago):



You can also use one of the import links to import the citation into BibTeX or another bibliography manager.  We hope that simplifying the chore of citation formatting will let you focus on what you really want to work on: writing a great paper!
Posted by: James Connor, Software Engineer