Wednesday, March 28, 2007

New website for ATTRACT in ten minutes

ATTRACT has been running since 1997. For years the questions were added onto a webpage I 'designed' and created using MS Word. However, around 2001-2 (can't remember) we created a new website (click here to view) which was lovely - at the time. However, I've been unhappy with the look for a fair old while. I'd prefer not to pay for a new service - so I thought I'd try creating one using blogger.

After literally ten minutes I had a site that looks significantly better, had broadly similar functionality and has a better search. Not bad for free. We're not sure if we'll adopt this, as it'll need to be 'user tested'. If that happens we'll move it to a better domain name.

To view the new site click here.

Month becomes day

When we were a subscription service we were searched between 20-25,000 times per month. Yesterday, we went about the 25,000 searches in a day. I suppose that equates to a 30 fold increase in traffic in 7 months.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Citizendium beta

Citizendium, an alternative to wikipedia has launched as a beta-service today.

The Citizendium (sit-ih-ZEN-dee-um), a "citizens' compendium of everything," is an open wiki project aimed at creating an enormous, free, and reliable encyclopedia. The project, started by a founder of Wikipedia, aims to improve on the Wikipedia model by adding "gentle expert oversight" and requiring contributors to use their real names. We have over 1,000 articles and hundreds of contributors. But we will avoid calling the Citizendium an "encyclopedia" until the project's editors feel comfortable putting their reputations behind that description.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Gwagle, TRIP and the semantic web

An interesting blog post that reports that TRIP and Gwagle are helping to usher in the semantic web by having a narrow focus.

My interpretation of this is that, as people using clinical terms there is a significant loss of ambiguity. In Google, if you type weight, it might be about the weight of a whale, yacht, car, person, building - pretty much anything. However, in TRIP or Gwagle, a search for weight is pretty much likely to refer to the weight of a person (or other biological entity) or something like low-molecular weight heparin.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Vehicle warning system

I don't think I've ever discussed traffic on this blog, always a first time! This story discusses a peer-to-peer mobile network to pass on details of road conditions between users.

This is another example of a network enhancing 'experience'. The whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Due to the work on Gwagle I'm very interesting in 'enabled' networks enhancing whatever outcomes the 'actors' are involved in. With Gwagle the actors can enhance knowledge acquisition, information support etc. In the case of the traffic network it could enhance the driving experience.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Web 2.0 paper

What a great experience!

As part of my reading around web 2.0 and health I came across a paper my Maged Kamel Boulos (who I know via our involvement with the NLH specialist library for skin disorders).

The paper is The emerging Web 2.0 social software: an enabling suite of sociable technologies in health and health care education and is a great review of web 2.0 and its application to health. The full text (well worth getting) even mentions this blog!

What's so great about that! Basically, I hadn't bookmarked the site, I just had the vague title in my head (the paper copy was elsewhere). So I went into Gwagle, searched for web 2.0 and found the paper in a couple of seconds - brilliant!


On Monday we started sending out a small number of invites to start alpha testing Gwagle. So far a few, brave, souls have started to use the site. We're deliberately restricting the number of invites so that we can gently test the system. As we get more confident we'll release more invites!

The purpose of the alpha is to test concepts and to hear from users what they would like to see. It's been great to see the feedback. All has been encouraging (of the concept) and a number of suggestions on functionality and style. The more the merrier.

Irrespective of our gentle rollout of invites, if you'd like to take part then let me know via here.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Gwagle goes alpha

For those of you interested (or bored) by my hints and comments about gwagle, well it's now moved to alpha testing. The site occupies the following URL and there is a fair bit of material to view.

However, a number of brave souls are being allowed to take part in Gwagle. We're looking principally for clinicians, although we're keen to have information specialists involved as well.

I use the term brave, as Gwagle is in alpha. For those of you not overly familiar with this phrase - it means first draft/a bit ropey/not properly designed! In short it's there for people to:

  • Play around with
  • Understand it
  • Break it
  • Think how to use it
  • Make suggestions
  • Not take things too seriously

If you're interested in taking part then let me know via the login/register form on the Gwagle site.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Alternative search interfaces for PubMed

An interesting paper from the health 'group' of CILIP. This review highlights a number of different interfaces (including my favourite HubMed) for PubMed.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


It's been a while since I posted on Q&A. The ATTRACT service is approaching question number 2,500 while the NLH Q&A Service has recently gone over the 5,000 barrier. Both services continue to churn out solid, thought-provoking answers which gain huge satisfaction scores with the clinicans who use the service.

But where next with Q&A - can it stay as it is? With regard the NLH service, it will invariably change. The NLH has limited resources and need to better use exisiting ones. So what might that mean. The general idea will be to create a central triage area that will receive all the questions. These questions will then be dealt with by a number of different resources. These resources will include the NLH's specialist libraries and possibly health librarians and even consultants. In addition a small in-house team would be well placed to 'cherry pick' the easier questions; questions where specialist knowledge is not necessary.

Another innovation is to work much more closely with CKS (formerly PRODIGY) to ensure their outputs are even more cllosely matched to clinically significant knowledge gaps.

Also, the NLH need to get a half-decent search engine....

These are 'predictable' innovations, in that they appear to be natural progressions.

Another innovation I would like to see is some mechanism of capturing questions answered in other ways. Over the world, clinicians answer thousands of questions for themselves (or with the help of the colleagues). With the rise of the internet a large number of these clinicians are (or can be) connected. If these answered questions could be shared - that would be very powerful indeed. We're keen to develop this idea and will form a part of Gwagle (going to alpha next week - fingers crossed). However, that's not to say it wouldn't be an integral part of any NHS/NLH Q&A 'service'.

The various Q&A services I'm involved with have an archive of 7,500 answers to clinical questions. These have been arrived at through a systematic review of the literature (using a broader definition of systematic than is usually associated with systematic reviews). If answers could be shared we might arrive at an archive of 50,000+. And that might move from the re-use rate of answers from the current 7-10% to over 50%. Answers start to look much cheaper and clinical information support much more instant.

On a more obvious note, if clinicians having up-to-date information support is so important, why not create an NHS Direct for clinicians?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Potential dangers associated with web 2.0

BBC News site report on a fake professor who was pretty senior in Wikipedia click here.

TRIP Improvements

It's taken a fair bit of R&D to arrive at this point (and we're still not sure on one point) but we've finalised our latest batch of improvements:

  • Results page re-design. There is too much wasted space on the current TRIP results page and I wanted to make better use of it. This is especially important for two reasons. Firstly, we'll be moving our Google Ads to there to improve performance (given our search stats we've made little money using that method). Secondly, we may be incorporating snippets into our search results (more below).
  • Conclusions. Many of our publications (e.g. Cochrane, DARE, BMJ Updates, JAMA) have clear conclusions. We've created a system to grab and display these (via a rollover) without having to visit the actual paper.
  • Improved advanced search. Currently, the search doesn't work, from a flow perspective, as I would like. Therefore, we'll improve how that works, making it much more user friendly.
  • PDFs. Highlight which results are PDFs
  • RSS feeds. When doing a search you'll be able to drag the RSS button to your RSS reader and new search results, for that search, will be highlighted.
  • Specialist search engines. We'll be creating a significant number of specialist search engines. These will be in specialities such as cardiology, mental health, nursing etc. If you use a specialist search you'll be able to just search the content of the top 10-20 journals in that area.
  • Synonyms. These are currently being reviewed, edited and overhauled to further enhance them.

The one uncertainty is still snippets. Snippets are the small summaries that you see in general search engines. To date our attempts to create adequate ones have been unsuccessful. However, we've got one more trick to try! Why are we so interested in snippets? We feel that they can better improve document selection, improving the search experience.

These improvements will be released, by May. However, some (namely the conclusions) will be released earlier.

Monday, March 05, 2007


Interesting interview with one of the people responsible for Microsoft's QnA service click here.

Friday, March 02, 2007


We get a large number of questions on individual drugs. Unfortunately, most of the robust resources 'hide behind' a firewall and require an expensive subscription to obtain the information. It's a bit like the Cochrane situation (see previous post) in that (I imagine) the taxpayers have paid for the initial research and development and then have to pay for re-accessing the same information.

I accept that many of these resources require significant input regarding appraising, searching, editing etc. So what's the solution, perhaps via another great resource highlighted on Ben's blog. This time it's an open-access, wiki-based, drug resource called PubDrug. It again highlights what can be done with decent tools (wiki) and a bunch of skilled and enthusiastic individuals. Currently, it has 7 monographs. I hope this expands rapidly.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


Ben has introduced me to another new blog, this time for Andrew McAfee. I've been discussing Gwagle with Ben for a while now and Andrew McAfee (Associate Professor at Harvard Business School) appears to be doing some very important analysis and thinking. He devised the SLATES pneumonic, which has been handily re-written (so I can understand it) by another blog:

Search: Find what you need, enhanced by emergent description (see tags, below)

Links: More to the point, link relationships or link ranking algorithms

Authoring: Ease of content creation – spare me the angle brackets, make it bone simple

Tags: What do my colleagues call this? I bet it works better than what the IT department calls it

Extensions: If you thought X was [good interesting important useful], you might, by extension find Y similarly so

Signals: tell me something has changed

The purpose of SLATES is "it helps expose how platforms and channels can be brought closer and made more effective in ways that enhance productivity and effectiveness. Yes, we’ve seen most of these elements before. It is in the ease of recombination that they change how things work."

February Search stats - guess what?

For those of you with enough willpower to have read this blog for any length of time will realise that, at the start of each month, I tend to give the search stats for the previous month. I imagine I'll stop when the stats stop going up! But, for February (a short month) we were searched 433,260 times (up from January's 365,855) - see graph below.

At long last we've got a half-decent web-analysis package attached. From that we can also see, in February, we had over 3 million page views. No wonder our web-company is moaning about our band width usage!