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Academic Search from Microsoft (Yup, it’s Bing Scholar)

November 8, 2011

I still get a ton of traffic to this blog from people searching for a Microsoft Bing version of Google Scholar.  Yesterday I got a comment from someone who works at Microsoft linking me to such a service, which now exists in beta (whatever that means, anymore).

Please consider the following assessment of Microsoft Academic Search, as it seems to be formally called, an addendum to my long post
Comparing citation searching: Google, Bing, Google Scholar, Web of Science, L’Annee originally written in October 2009. (You know in my mind it’s just going to be Bing Scholar, forever and ever.)

Short reminder of the method – I vanity searched myself, under the names “Phoebe Acheson” and “Phoebe E. Acheson” (with and without quotes if the search engine supported them) and reported on how much of my professional work was found.

Microsoft Academic Search (http://academic.research.microsoft.com/)
Microsoft Academic Search is a free online scholarly search engine which debuted in late 2009 with limited discipline coverage, but has expanded a great deal over the course of 2011.  (According to this report, there was no Humanities or Social Science content yet as of July 2011; there is now.) It’s very hard to find a statement of where the content indexed by Microsoft Academic Search comes from; it does not appear to come through direct partnerships with academic publishers, as Google Scholar uses.  Instead, Microsoft Academic Search uses a “focus crawler” and indexes data (including some but not all metadata) from web sites listing citations.  (This information comes from a Microsoft Q&A forum in 2010; a list of the top 100 sites indexed is included as are some specifics about metadata collected.) A major difference from Google Scholar is that Microsoft Academic Search seems to index (and thus search) only citations, not the full text of articles.

As of this writing, Microsoft Academic Search states that it contains 36,684,112 publications by 18,820,566 authors, and is updated weekly, with 123,978 items added last week.  Microsoft Academic Search classifies its content by Domains, which are heavily tilted towards scientific disciplines (Agricultural Science, Materials Science) but now include Arts & Humanities, Business and Economics, and Social Science.  One advantage of the domain classification is that one can limit a search by one or more domains; this fixes a common problem in Google Scholar in which name searches for classical scholars turn up many articles by same or similar-named authors in scientific fields.  Search results can also be narrowed by domain, a very big improvement over Google Scholar.  How the Domains are assigned is not stated, of course, so interdisciplinary topics might be tricky to place accurately.

When I searched for Phoebe Acheson, a box above the results set asked me if I was searching for one of two authors, Phoebe Acheson or Phoebe E. Acheson (I have published under both names).  For a more common name – I used Steve Thompson – a long list of possibilities appears, but at least some of them are distinguished by academic affiliations, and a few have a photo!  It is possible to create and account, log in and add information to Microsoft Academic Search, and one thing a researcher can do is “claim” her own articles and create a profile (and apparently upload a picture.)  (Google Scholar has a feature like this which came out last summer, but I signed up on the wait list to claim my account then and still haven’t heard back from them.)

Microsoft Academic Search found 4 publications for me, and they are all works that I authored or co-authored.  One publication is listed twice; apparently the algorithm is not too good at detecting duplicates, as the only difference is the absence of page numbers in one of the citations. A check of Google Scholar using the search Phoebe Acheson turns up a total of 275 citations, but only the top 5 are actually things I published.  Thus, while Google Scholar includes more erroneous results, it also includes more correct results (and remember, it is searching the full text of articles – so it finds any publications that mention my name).  I would guess that Microsoft Academic Search will improve in this area, as Humanities and Social Science domains are new to the system and presumably growing.  Microsoft Academic Search, like Google Scholar, includes a citation index feature allowing one to see other works which have cited a paper.  This feature also suffers from the limited content of Microsoft Academic Search; a paper listed as cited 14 times in Google Scholar has no citations in Microsoft, and another cited 8 times in Google Scholar is cited once in Microsoft.  Since Microsoft Academic Scholar is using this citation information to develop citation metrics (see this Nature article), the speedy growth of the material set indexed by Microsoft is urgent to make the numbers have real meaning.

So, the content for the Humanities and Social Sciences is very limited still.  Where Microsoft Academic Search shines, and challenges Google Scholar, is the added features.  The ability to facet a search by domain and the existence of author pages (here’s Jack L. Davis) were mentioned above.  There are also pages for journals (here’s Hesperia), built in citation graphs and co-author webs, and various other neat bells and whistles (a Call For Proposal search that can specify by location of the conference – I guess for when you’re dying to visit Florence for work!)

I recommend most classics scholars and students check Google Scholar when searching for articles on a topic, in addition to looking in  discipline-specific bibliographic sources.  (I also LOVE it for citation-checking – when you’ve copied something down wrong, or can’t remember a subtitle, Google Scholar is almost always the fastest way to get the right information.)  Microsoft Academic Search is not yet ready to challenge Google Scholar for classicists, based simply on the content available.  But if the content continues to grow, it could become a strong challenger.  And I think that junior academics seeking to manage their online visibility and findability owe it to themselves to spend an hour logging on, claiming their author page, and adding any missing citations (you can even link to a full-text paper or add a .pdf).  Like Academia.edu, which I have discussed in this space, Microsoft Academic Search is a place you can be found, so it behooves you to make the information about you there as full and accurate as possible.

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One comment

  1. Microsoft Academic Search team is still working on getting more content, esp. in Arts and Humanit area, please stay tuned for more updates.

    we welcome more feedback from you and readers.

    thanks.



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