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Searching Quality Content with Yahoo

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Mary Ellen Bates, Bates Information Services, Inc.


Logo for Bates Information Services, Inc.16 August 2005. Those of us who have been in the search trenches for decades have always been aware of the vast amounts of information that search engines don't index, or at least don't index very well. While they are getting better at addressing the challenge of making multimedia content accessible -- and while the world of blogs and podcasts is building specialized search tools to mine that content -- there are treasure troves of information that, until now, haven't been readily accessible to the typical Web researcher.

These include the high-end professional online research services, such as Factiva, LexisNexis, and Dialog, which contain full-text articles from trade and professional magazines, specialized newsletters, newspapers and other publications around the world, often including archives going back decades. Note that most of this content never appears on the open Web for free; publishers that rely on subscriptions for most of their revenue have no incentive to make their current and archived content available on the Web to non-subscribers. (For a lengthier discussion of the distinction between what can be found on the free Web and professional online services, see the white paper I wrote, entitled "Free, Fee-Based and Value-Added Information Services".)


One of the advantages of the Yahoo Search Subscriptions site is that you can get a sense of what information is available on a topic, even if you aren't willing to pay for the full text of the article.


Yahoo recently tackled the problem of making subscription-only content available through its Yahoo Search Subscriptions, which it rolled out during mid-June as a beta service. Unlike Google Scholar, the focus is on current content, with more of a business and news focus. The resources available through Yahoo Search Subscriptions include Consumer Reports, the (London) Financial Times, Factiva, LexisNexis, a collection of market research reports, engineering publications, investment news, and the New England Journal of Medicine.

You can select which sources to search; you do not have to subscribe to any of these resources to conduct a search. However, if you click through any of the links from the search results page, you will be prompted to provide your subscriber ID and password, or to purchase one-time access to the resource. Prices vary dramatically; an ad hoc purchase of an article from the New England Journal of Medicine costs $10, whereas an article of similar length from Factiva is available for $1.95 (or $.95, if you pre-pay for 10 articles).

One of the advantages of the Yahoo Search Subscriptions site is that you can get a sense of what information is available on a topic, even if you aren't willing to pay for the full text of the article. (And, as Gary Price of ResourceShelf.com often reminds us, your local public library may make this content available to library card holders at no charge.) If you do need to purchase articles, the cost is reasonable, particularly if you compare the ad hoc price to the monthly subscription fees charged by some of the professional online services.

You can also use the Advanced Search option of the standard Yahoo search engine, which lets you use the Boolean operators (AND, OR and NOT), phrase searching, and so on. However - and this is no surprise - you cannot use the specialized search syntax when searching LexisNexis through Yahoo Search Subscriptions.

The most significant limitation of Yahoo Search Subscriptions is that you are searching a subset of all the content available on the subscription sites. This is not well-documented but, for some resources, you may only be searching the past six months of content, or a small subset of the publications available to regular subscribers. By no means is this an adequate substitute for a regular subscription to a professional online service, such as LexisNexis, Factiva or Dialog.

For information professionals and librarians, one of the uses of Yahoo Search Subscriptions is to pique the curiosity of their clients, to show them what information is available beyond the reach of traditional search engines. And for researchers who do not have access to any of the subscription services, Yahoo Search Subscriptions does offer a way to purchase articles on the fly, with the caveat that the researcher is only seeing a small portion of the material available to subscribers, who go directly to these information sources.

2005 Mary Ellen Bates all rights reserved.


Mary Ellen Bates is the principal of Bates Information Services, a research and consulting business based in Boulder, CO.


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Created: 16 August 2005
Revised: 18 October 2007 (no text revisions)
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