Today Google Reader, tomorrow Google Scholar?

The rather strange decision by Google to shut down Google Reader has caused some alarming speculation. What if they next shut down Google Scholar? Here’s Farhad Manjoo, and here’s Joshua Gans. (via the Dish)

Google Scholar has truly revolutionised research by:

  • Making it easy, and fast, to search for relevant literature
  • Making it easy to export references (including in bibtex)
  • Showing up multiple copies of the same paper, including pdfs archived on personal webpages — especially useful if the official one is paywalled (I’m sure people like Elsevier aren’t happy about that)
  • And, of course, giving citation statistics for free.

Would Google really close Scholar? Hard to imagine, but it was hard to imagine they’d kill Google Reader (and keep Orkut alive!) The nearest free alternative I can think of is PubMed but that’s mainly bio-med and, even there, falls far short of what Scholar offers (but also offers things Scholar doesn’t, like full text for many papers).

Besides, Google’s day won’t last forever. Right now they are obscenely rich and powerful, and can afford to subsidise these unprofitable things with the idea of attracting mindshare among academic types. But what if Google’s other businesses decline significantly?

Manjoo says Google isn’t a public utility. Very true. He also observes that this is a risk of the “cloud” — if the software doesn’t live on your hard disk, it can be pulled anytime. He therefore advocates paying for any online service we find useful. In general I agree, but only when they ask for money, and I didn’t notice Google asking Reader users for any. But it is imperative to build a public version of Google Scholar. PubMed is good for its field, but too narrow. It needs to be replicated on a larger scale, by many countries.

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4 Comments

  1. I don’t think Google Scholar is so important, as a separate product, for research purposes. Here are my reasons:

    1) Making it easy, and fast, to search for relevant literature: Google already does this. In fact, I often find that results on Google are always at last as relevant as the ones on Google Scholar.

    2) Making it easy to export references (including in bibtex): At least in my field (computer science), this is not an issue: most “citeable” papers are either indexed in free indexing services (like ACM Digital library, IEEE Explore, which offer free citation export, or are on the arxiv, which again offers citation export. DBLP also does a very good job of keeping track of indexing and BibTeX references. Tools like Zotero also make it easy to generate BibTeX entries automatically).

    3) Showing up multiple copies of the same paper, including pdfs archived on personal webpages — especially useful if the official one is paywalled (I’m sure people like Elsevier aren’t happy about that): Again, vanilla Google already does this.

    4) And, of course, giving citation statistics for free. This is indeed something that might be missed. However, it must be noted that Google Scholar’s citation count heuristics can quite often be inaccurate.

    Reply
  2. vishuguttal

     /  March 16, 2013

    I use Google Reader, and that is how I get to know about this post! Not good it if goes away, despite alternatives being out there.

    But I doubt Google Scholar will go away soon. They have introduced various new features of relatively recently, including creating profiles for users, you get updates on relevant new papers in your field, tracking your citations, etc. As you say it does not guarantee that it won’t go away, but perhaps in not in the near future. This is a service I am sure we can all pay – our grants and libraries can – given that most univs already subscribe ISI Web of Knowledge and Scopus but they dont offer good search services.

    Reply
  3. Sayan

     /  March 18, 2013

    For my RSS needs I use the Firefox extension “Sage”. It works without forcing me to visit a third party site. And also I can’t see why should I tell Google about my reading preferences, or my political views or whatever. I know they can collect data about me anyway (legally of course, as the US privacy laws are in general less stringent than EU laws) thanks to some of their commercial programmes, but I don’t see the point in facilitating them.

    On the other hand I hope they will *not* stop their “scholar” service, as I am heavily dependant on it, but you never really know what’s ahead. Please Google keep up the scholar service while respecting users’ privacy.

    Reply
  4. Rahul Siddharthan

     /  March 18, 2013

    Thanks for comments, all. Ahannāsmi — I don’t find regular Google search equally good for academic stuff (unless I know exactly what I’m looking for) but your mileage may vary. But while everything offered by Google Scholar may be available elsewhere, it is still a huge convenience to get it in one place. Vishu — yes, we can pay with our grants (and we can also pay for ISI Web of Science, for that matter) but things like Scholar are also a resource for scientists in less privileged positions, journalists who like to look at original literature, teachers, and the general public. Its existence has shown how invaluable it is. Therefore I feel that science funding agencies should consider setting up their own version, preferably with open-access full text too on the lines of PubMed.

    Reply

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