In a recent post, I wrote about the crazy mixed up world of business information sources. Big changes in some of our favorite go-to resources have led me and other info pros to look for alternatives. And higher prices for our must-have tools mean adapting search strategies and project pricing.
In this post, I'm going to dig deeper into the changes at Dialog, one of the earliest online database services - and by "online," I mean before the internet! When I started in this business, Dialog was considered a must-have for any professional researcher. With its powerful search capabilities and nearly 700 databases - including company directories, full-text business articles, and market research reports sold by the page - it was well worth the investment.
With Dialog's command-line searching and advanced features, the learning curve was steep. Some graduate schools covered Dialog searching, but mine did not. I had to shorten the curve, so I signed on with Amelia Kassel's mentoring program to learn the skills I needed to include Dialog in my search repertoire. This knowledge opened up a world of deep content and precision searching that distinguished the amateurs from the professionals.
Over the years, Dialog has offered a variety of interfaces (Let us please forget DialogLink 4.0!) and experimented with pricing models (Remember DialUnits?). They closed the market research files, and we learned to go elsewhere. While I always remained true to my Dialog roots, I began to rely more and more on other sources, reserving Dialog for those really tough questions or their extensive collection of company directories.
At the end of 2013, ProQuest - Dialog's current owners - completed the migration of their business content to a new, completely revised platform. While most info pros were ready for an updated interface, simpler searching, and even the new pricing (no search charges on transactional plans), many of us were not pleased to learn that ProQuest had discontinued all of the company directories, including Dun & Bradstreet records with hard-to-find private-company information.
After using the new ProQuest Dialog, here are my reactions:
- It seems strange after all these years of Dialog searching, but I really do need to invest more time in learning the new system. They've Google-ized the searching, and I thought the transition would be a lot easier. Luckily, the company offers a wide range of support materials, and I recently attended a useful webinar on basic searching. It helped a lot, but it's going to take me a long time to get used to using quotation marks around phrases in Dialog!
- Since Dialog's dropped the search charges, it's nice not having to worry about busting the budget with time-consuming searches. But the document costs and access fee (percentage of document costs) can add up if you download a lot of articles. I've adapted by using Dialog only after searching Factiva and LexisNexis. Dialog usually brings up an article or two that the others don't (usually older articles). That's valuable content that I can't afford to miss, so I'm not ready to totally kick Dialog to the curb.
- I understand why Dialog made the business decision to discontinue the costly company directories - but I want them back! Yes, you can get D&B records elsewhere, but search limitations restrict their use to simple company look-ups. I miss the "old" Dialog most when I need to dig in and do some serious data mining, such as when sizing markets or comparing employment numbers within a variety of industries. Unfortunately, though, the remaining business content just doesn't stand out from what's available through other products.
- Dialog needs to get in touch with their customers. I mean get on the phone and have a real conversation. Find out how the migration is going for me. What's frustrating about it, and how can you solve that? Aside from an email and a postal mailing with details about billing and training, they've made no effort contact me directly. The silence is deafening, Dialog. I may not be your biggest customer, but wouldn't you like to catch me before I find something better?
I'm going to reserve further judgment about the new ProQuest Dialog until I use it more and see how it fits with my current needs. In the meantime, let me know what you think.