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Yahoo Search Subscriptions Brings Premium Content Into Web Search

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Yahoo has released a new Yahoo Search Subscriptions (beta) service that unites regular web search results found from crawling the open web with listings from free and fee-based database services and publishers such as Factiva, LexisNexis, and Consumer Reports.

These databases have content typically "invisible" to web crawlers. The move should help many people who assume the open web has all the research material they need discover additional content they'd otherwise miss.

To view the full text of premium content, searchers will either have to have a subscription to the fee-based database providing it or take advantage of pay-per-article options, when offered.

Content Partners

What new material is being added? It runs the gamut from news to some "scholarly" content. At launch, sources include:

  • ConsumerReports.org
  • The Wall Street Journal Online
  • TheStreet.com
  • The New England Journal of Medicine
  • IEEE
  • Forrester Research Inc
  • Financial Times

In the coming weeks, additional content will include:

  • Factiva
  • LexisNexis AlaCarte (the pay as you go service)
  • Thomson Gale
  • ACM (Association for Computing Machinery)

Yahoo said it plans to add many other content providers in the future, as well. The service is initially available in the U.S. and the UK.

Using The Service

To search subscription content, searchers need to visit the Yahoo Search Subscriptions page and check each subscription source they'd like included in their search. Once selected, you can then either search just against those sources (the Search Subscriptions button) or search the entire web (the Search the Web button) and have subscription content also displayed.

The settings you choose work on a one-time basis and only for that page. Select sources, do a search, then go back to that page and you need to pick your sources again.

To avoid this, use the Yahoo Search preferences page to permanently select subscription sources. Once saved, any search you do will always check these -- and whether you search from the subscription page or just the Yahoo home page. You can also remove one or all of these sources by returning to the preferences page and deselecting them.

After you search, subscription listings will be shown above web results, as highlighted below:

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Be aware that Yahoo also said subscription content may also be mixed into web results, despite the aforementioned segregation.

Anyone can see listings from any of the subscription sources. However, you won't be able to clickthrough and read the full-text of articles without having a subscription or paying a per-view fee.

Yahoo Subscriptions Versus Google Scholar

I'm sure Yahoo's new service will draw comparisons with Google Scholar. However, at this time, most of the Yahoo material (with the exceptions of ACM and IEEE) appears to be current events, news, and business oriented rather than scholarly or peer-reviewed.

It's also interesting to see Yahoo work with not only publishers but also with content aggregators like Factiva and LexisNexis. That said, I'm sure Google Scholar will be offering access to more of this type of content in the future and very likely has deals with some of the same aggregators and publishers that Yahoo does. Likewise, I wouldn't at all be surprised to see more peer-reviewed/scholarly material in Yahoo. Yes, competition is a good thing for the searcher.

One thing I'll want to watch closely is how Yahoo handles content that might be accessible for free via Yahoo News and for a fee via one of the premium services. Also, since Factiva and LexisNexis have massive archives of content, in some cases back more than 20 or 30 years, it will be important to spend some time determining what is and is not available. For example, will I be able to access a 1993 Washington Post article via LexisNexis?

Remembering Northern Light

By the way, this is not the first time Yahoo has offered a "gateway" of sorts to fee-based content. In 2002, they announced a deal with Northern Light to provide access to their "premium collection."

Northern Light itself started out doing exactly what Yahoo Subscription Search offers, a combination web search and premium database search combined. But the company didn't earn enough to keep growing. It closed its web search service in 2002.

Looking Forward & Wish List

Let's keep our fingers crossed and hope Yahoo decides to take all of this a step further and work with database providers so that the premium content that many people have access to FOR FREE via their local public, university, or corporate library (aka institutional subscriptions) becomes more easily accessible for these people.

If you're unclear about what I'm talking about, many public libraries offer free access (for personal use) to fee-based databases from your home or office, such as I covered here recently. Google Scholar has already made some strong inroads in this area. Remember, these days the world of the library and librarian extends beyond the four walls of the library building.

Three more things Yahoo should work towards.

  • Make some or all of their advanced search syntax usable along with making the rich meta data that many of these databases provide easily searchable, such as author, specific dates, descriptors (sort of like tags)...
     
  • Consider dynamic clustering to allow users to quickly see all that is available. As I've noted before, to some degree anything not on the first page of results is the invisible or deep web for many people, given they won't go past the first page! Every good result can't always be at the top of the first page of results.
     
  • Allow developers to tap into this content with YQ.
     
  • Further outreach to colleges, universities, schools and anywhere people can be taught to search better.
Postscript (from Danny): The Yahoo Search Blog provides an official heads-up on the change, along with listing a URL for a UK version of the service. Meanwhile, John Battelle wishes that the publishers involved would let Yahoo serve as a central billing point for viewing. Northern Light actually did do something similar back in 1998, but that never meshed with general consumers. Yahoo has far bigger popularity, plus the space has matured, so perhaps it would fly today. But definitely agree, a centralized way to pay-per-view or pay for a monthly subscription to access would work much better.

Postscript 2 (from Gary): In the post I mentioned that libraries offer free access to lots of databases from many providers. Just in, news that one of the companies that Yahoo will be providing some content from, Thomson Gale, has just announced an early beta that will make accessing TG content discovered via Yahoo (and Google) and available for free from libraries, even easier. BTW, once more content becomes available via Yahoo Subscriptions, I plan to post a follow-up.

Want to discuss? Visit our forum thread, Yahoo Subscription Search Service Opens.


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