Monday, January 17, 2011

There's a (Science) App for That: Elsevier SciVerse Applications and Developer Network

Elsevier is one of several publishers offering journals, databases and productivity tools to professionals in scientific, medical and technical markets that is trying hard to make their offerings more relevant and useful to their clients. In some ways, Elsevier is suited ideally to this task, with an enormous span of privately offered content available in its Science Direct database as well as its Scopus index of journal article abstracts from over 4,000 peer-reviewed journals and its Scirus index of Web-based research articles. As I outlined in an article a few months ago in ContentBlogger, Elsevier has started to provide a common access framework to its offerings via SciVerse, a unified search portal for subscription and Web research content. At the time SciVerse was featuring a new API "hook" that allowed third parties to introduce value-add functions to enhance the researching experience for SciVerse users. Since the API was brand-new at the time there wasn't much to demonstrate how it might be used, but recently Elsevier's Rafael Sidi, VP, for Elsevier's Applications Marketplace & Developer Network, offered me a tour of how third parties have been making use of the SciVerse API to introduce new functionality into this new platform.

Apps developed using the SciVerse API are available now in a storefront-like apps marketplace, where one can view summaries of the apps, view aggregate ratings and then "drill down" into the details. Installation is quick and simple, akin to what one experiences on a mobile smart phone or an online personalized portal like iGoogle (SciVerse in fact uses base technology for its displays similar to that used in iGoogle). Once selected from the marketplace the apps are be plugged in to the SciVerse Hub desktop, where one can initiate searches for new content.

That's nice in its own way, but the real value-add that I saw was SciVerse's use of these useful apps as post-search filters. as seen in the search results to the right, the search results for "angioplasty are complemented by profiles of scientists focusing on angioplasty from SciVerse's ExpertSearch app, which includes their "H-Index" productivity and impact rating as a researcher, numbers of articles produced, article citations and key fields of study. Another app developed by scientists at Rensselaer Polytechinic Institute enables SciVerse users to probe information available on a selected topic in the U.S. government databases exposed in their Data.gov initiative. Other apps are more functionally-oriented, such as one which will take a displayed article and format it for use on mobile phones.

So far there are nineteen of these apps that have been developed for the SciVerse environment which have been put on the platform's storefront for free installation, but their clients are developing them for their internal use as well, so consider their app storefront just the tip of the iceberg for this value-add capability. That's typical for APIs, of course, especially in competitive fields where finding the needle in the haystack of innovation opportunities means serious money. But I think that Elsevier's SciVerse Applications and Developer Network storefront also offers an opportunity for software developers to showcase premium applications as well. This approach certainly worked to the advantage of Salesforce.com, whose AppExchange marketplace has offered an easy-to-use self-service method for their subscribers to install value-add premium content and services from third parties on their sales productivity platform.

SciVerse's budding apps marketplace is still in its early days, but it is a promising move towards an era in scientific publishing in which solutions are oriented not just towards a specific set of journals available in a subscription service but more towards the full range of solutions that scientific, technical and medical professionals call upon to solve problems in research, applied sciences and clinical medicine. The more that enterprise publishers ask the question, "What do my clients need to be successful" rather than "What do we need to do to protect the value of our subscription content," the more that they'll come up with high-value solutions that their clients will be willing to pay for.
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