On the Mark
Speedy access to content also plays a major role in the approach taken by biomedicine search engine Pubget. CEO and company founder Ramy Arnaout says he realized the frustrations of getting access to PDFs of research while working toward his medical degree.
"The way it works is usually you get on the web, you do a search, you get a result. You click, you get an abstract of the paper that you might want to read. You click again, you get a page with the HTML full text that you might want to read. You click again, and if you have access and if you remembered to log in appropriately, then maybe you get the PDF. By the time you get there, just the way things work, maybe you've forgotten why you wanted to read that paper in the first place," says Arnaout. "I'm looking at the result. I know I want that paper. Why can't the paper just come up?"
When Arnaout began developing Pubget, he says the company's focus remained on meeting a user's needs as quickly and efficiently as possible. "We really kept to that approach when it comes to development, saying, ‘What does the user really want? What is the goal here? Who are our users? Scientists, doctors, engineers ... and when they sit down in front of the computer, what is it that they want?'"
According to Arnaout, many of the frustrations arise because the research ecosystem is designed to meet the needs of many different stakeholders. "They've all got very different reasons for doing what they're doing," he says. "A publisher wants to put their paper up online somewhere, and that's crucial to the system. A library wants to have a list somewhere where a user can get to those publishers' pages, and that's really crucial to the system. But when you then pivot and look at things from the user's perspective, you've got a system that's not built for them."
Rather than focus on these peripheral needs, Arnaout says that Pubget focused on the aspects of research that were of immediate importance to a user, such as the ability to quickly jump to a particular portion of a research paper or easily locate specific figures. The company also looks at user behaviors to alter how search results are returned.
"We noticed that when a user types in a citation search, that paper might be cited in all kinds of other papers. In Google Scholar, if you type in a citation you're more likely than not to get papers that cite that paper, not the paper itself," says Arnaout. Recognizing this, Pubget designed its search engine to identify citation searches and return the original paper at the top of the results.
Opening the Gates
Another way that companies can handle user experience is to attempt to put it into the hands of the user. That's the approach being taken with Elsevier's SciVerse platform, a unified research environment launched late last year that combines several of the company's existing research platforms. SciVerse is also opening up the realm of user experience to the end user through the release of APIs and the addition of an app marketplace.
With the APIs, users can design their own tools and custom interfaces for the platform. If users wish the platform had a search tool that could sort through hits based on an author's work with a specific chemical, or a tool to track which institutions are publishing the most research in a particular field, they can build one themselves. Users can also share apps and collaborate with colleagues and other researchers through a development forum.