Microsoft Academic (search engine)
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Microsoft Academic is a free-to-use academic search engine that covers millions of publications and authors in many domains (see FAQ). Microsoft Academic is similar to Google scholar in that it searches for journal articles, conference proceedings, reports and content types on the web (but not books or patents). Papers and data generated (250+ million citations) in can be used to visualize connections between documents, authors, conferences, grey literature and journals. Some subjects covered are agricultural sciences, arts & humanities, biology, chemistry, computer science, economics, business, engineering, environmental sciences, geosciences, materials science, mathematics, medicine and physics. The search engine emphasizes data visualization through its VisualExplorer tool which reveals "key relationships between and among subjects, content, and authors in a manner that highlights the critical links that help define scientific research." Many caveats issued with respect to web searching for academic content apply to MA. While providing convenient browsing of the scholarly literature and a way to scan top authors, MA does not cover all publications available from your local academic library.
"In beta" 2011 - 2014
In May 2014, Nature magazine published an insightful piece entitled The decline and fall of Microsoft Academic Search which outlines the ups and downs of the current search engine's predecessor. From 2011, the number of documents indexed by MAS fell dramatically, and was not advised for academic searching with any sense of currency or reliability.
Still, MA provides access to a range of content similar to Google scholar. Unlike GS, MA reveals what content is available in its database on the home page. When searching for topics such as "chronic obstructive pulmonary disease", it will find thousands of results. Similar searching in Google scholar returned more results than MAS but then one might expect that. MA does not index legal materials or patents (Google scholar does). Subjects covered by Academic search now appear on the home page and show, at a glance, the scope and coverage of the database. Other features in Academic search are worth mentioning. Citations include links to fulltext if and when available. Initial lists do not provide snippet views but by clicking titles, a graphical view of citations is shown as well as snippet views. Graphs indicate citation trends for the publication and numbers of citations to the main article. Citations listed below the graph are clickable to abstracts and fulltext content. An export button allows the searcher to download citations in standard bibliographic formats. MA is not as well known as Google scholar but may be worth examining and using to search the grey literature. One of the advantages of MAS is that the snippet view is useful in determining whether a hit is worth exploring. Additionally, MA relies on title words to determine item relevancy. Its interactive social qualities are superior to Google scholar's; the help screen in Academic search also provides further information about the search engine's capabilities.
MAS has been around since 2011 or perhaps even earlier. Interestingly, Microsoft had announced the year before that it was retiring the project. Since 2004, Google scholar has improved its presentation and listing of results - and has come a long way. The inclusion of legal materials and patents has been a boon for scholars, lawyers and law librarians. However, its lack of transparency in its indexing practices and coverage make it difficult to use with confidence for most scholarly areas. As a browsing tool, it is acceptable but not so much for performing structured literature reviews.
Microsoft's Academic search profile pages provide a way for you as a UBC scholar to track your scholarship – and connect with others within your discipline. Google scholar performs a similar function. You can check out who is citing you and your publications, see how your citations are graphed over time and compute other citation metrics. Make your profile public so your students can see what you are up to -- contact me for more information.
Windows Live Academic Search phased out in 2008
In 2008, Microsoft made the decision to phase out its original scholarly search engine called Windows Live Academic Search. This announcement came at about the same time that Microsoft decided to get out its digitization project of print books. Curiously, Microsoft said it would try to integrate the scholarly materials and the digitized content into Bing, its web search engine; later, it announced it would send all of its digital content to the publishers whose works they digitized. In launching Academic Search originally, it received a couple of good reviews and was called a solid competitor to Google scholar. One reviewer said it "...allowed users to search across the web for academic journals, databases like PubMed and OA repositories". However, Academic Search failed to make improvements fast enough or promote itself enough in order to compete on a level playing field with Google scholar. One of the benefits of Academic Search was that it pointed searchers to print books and articles in local libraries. One of the early problems with Academic search was the criticism that it lacked firepower to handle the sheer number of search requests, and that consequently response times were slow.
Key websites & video
Future of the web's 'Academic Search space'
Time will tell whether the scholarly search space that is being carved out by Microsoft and Google will ever be a truly open search space or whether it will be proprietarized in the years ahead. Librarians should be planning on better tools for themselves. The semantic web and web 3.0 may offer opportunities for a better, academic search space - one that can integrate relevant documents and data in the future.