Trip Database Blog

Liberating the literature


January 2007


An amusing post on the SEOmoz blog. Picking out the best bits:

  • Wikipedia – The encyclopedia where you can be an authority, even if you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.
  • When Wikipedia becomes our most trusted reference source, reality is just what the majority agrees upon.
  • When money determines Wikipedia entries, reality has become a commodity.

Fortunately, medical blogs, such as Ganfyd, are above these criticisms.

Open access and Cochrane

Ben Toth frequently comments on open access issues relating to Cochrane. His most recent can be viewed here. Seeing this entry coincided with an e-mail from the rather good RD Info people. RD Info highlights new R&D funding and is often interesting to browse. One of their entries included the following:

NHS Cochrane Collaboration Programme Grant Scheme
Description: NHS Cochrane Collaboration Programme Grants will provide new funding to support the production and updating of Cochrane reviews in areas of priority or need for the NHS. The grants will build on existing Cochrane Collaboration infrastructure, supplementing rather than replacing current funding, activities and outputs of The Cochrane Collaboration.
Funding: Funding for approximately 8 grants will be available. Grants will be up to a maximum of £420,000 over three years (ie up to £140,000 pa) including institutional overheads or full economic costs at 80%. Grants will be awarded to support a coherent programme of work that includes both new Cochrane reviews and updating of existing reviews.
Amount : > £100K Closing Date : 05 March 2007 Duration : 1 year – 3 years

What struck me (and clever people like Ben have been commenting for an age on this subject) is that the NHS gives large quantities of money to Cochrane to produce the systematic reviews (as well as untold NHS staff time taken by volunteers actually producing the reviews). Cochrane (well Wiley, the publishers) then has the temerity to charge the NHS to look at them.

TRIP Updates

For a number of years TRIP has been used by a number of organisations to highlight new research evidence. Some ad hoc , others more substantial. Some examples of our work include

  1. We supply a portal site that news new evidence to populate their site and e-mail campaigns. For this group we supply them 15 links to evidence in over 20 clinical areas every month. The content includes secondary and primary research.
  2. A number of groups use our services to help keep them up-to-date with new research in which they are, or have, carried out reviews (systematic or otherwise).
  3. Some clinicians and researches, with a particular interest in an area, simply use our services to send them e-mails of new content every month.

Today we’ve launched TRIP Updates which will help highlight the existing and new services. Currently, e-mail is the way users receive updates (although some of our clients receive the content via XML). Shortly, we’ll be launching a comprehensive RSS feed system.

The premium service (a paid for service) is the most comprehensive package we offer. Not only can we update users of new content in TRIP but also in Medline. We can configure our output to suit you. Do you want all new TRIP content as well as all new Medline content in your area? Or would you prefer just TRIP content and RCTs in an area?

For more information see TRIP Updates.

Number of clinical questions

We’ve just completed an analysis of clinical questions for the National Library for Health, principally based on the work of the NLH Q&A Service. One issue we addressed was the number of repeat questions. On a very crude level we have been able to map out the proportion of repeat questions based on the size of our answer bank (repository of previously answered questions). To repeat this is very crude, but still an interesting exercise.

When we had 2,000 previous answers the repeat rate was approximately 3.5%, when increased to 5,900 it increased to 9% and when it reached 6,900 it rose to 14.5 %. We’ve graphed this and it can be viewed below.

We’ve applied the MS-Excel trendline. If you extend the line, how many questions does an answer bank require to answer 100% of questions as repeat? 48,000.

I don’t actually believe that figure. There will always be new interventions so new questions will be asked about these. However, an answer back of say 25,000 questions will possible answer 50% of questions. I look forward to our next analysis, with an even larger answer bank to see where the trendline goes!

Adding TRIP to your website

Since going free the use of TRIP has increased dramatically. Another heavily used feature of TRIP has been the incorporation of TRIP content into third-party websites. This has taken two main forms.

First, the incorporation of the TRIP search box into a website. This is simply a question of adding a few lines of HTML and away you go. For example see here and here.

Second, and more sophisticated, is the adding of TRIP via the ‘backdoor’. This means that your website has a search box (as above) but when someone adds a search term it doesn’t cause the user to leave your site and visit TRIP’s. Instead it sends the search term to TRIP via a backdoor. The results are then returned in a format that easily allows them to be displayed as you wish. You can make the results return in your homepage with your ‘look and feel’. Not only do you retain your users you give them high-quality evidence that has the look of your site. This has been used by a number of site, principally portal sites. However, an example can be seen via NHS Scotland’s eLibrary (click here for details). TRIP supplies the bulk of the links, but as you can see the results are displayed in a non-TRIP way and integrated with other sources of information.

If you’re interested in ehancing the content of your site, see ‘Add TRIP to Your Site‘.

Snippets in TRIP

A fairly productive meeting with Sequence has moved the snippets idea forward. The underlying search software we use has an auto-snippet function – which is a good start. So Sequence will create a testing system to demonstrate how it would work in reality. Assuming that’s good we still need to decide how to display it. Do we take up screen ‘real estate’ and display it like Google? Alternatively, we only display it via a roll-over function?

The other snippet function was the ability to grab the documents conclusions; where they exist. This seems ‘do-able’.

Assuming things go smoothly we should have something to rollout by March.

Snippets in TRIP

I ended up e-mailing the authors of the ‘Eye tracking in MSN Search…’ to discuss a few ideas for TRIP. I suggested a hybrid method whereby a snippet (short extract of text taken from the main document) is available but only visible via a rollover. So you retain the number of results per page and users can easily see the snippet – best of both worlds?

An interesting reply (very pleased they did reply!):

In previous work, we found that the cognitive cost associated with deciding that you need to look at the expanded abstract usually outweighs the benefit associated with presenting more results on a page; the rollover disclosure stymies users’ ability to quickly scan the results to find what they’re looking for.

I’ve taken that to mean that the extra time taken to decide to look at the extra snippet information would be better spent scanning more results.

I still think the rollover is better for TRIP, for two main reasons:

  • We have less screen ‘real estate’ due to the categorisation system, so space is even more precious.
  • TRIP is a specialised not general search engine. Users are likely to know more from the title and source in TRIP than in MSN search

So, I’m off to Sequence (our web people) to discuss the options. I’m actually favouring a ‘two snippet’ approach. Snippet one will be the first 5-7 lines of text and snippet two will be the conclusion of the article. As many articles don’t have conclusions (e.g. guidelines) many records will only have ‘snippet one’.

Sequence are very good at taking my ideas and working them into something tangible. No doubt more tomorrow on this idea!

Eye tracking in MSN Search….

A recently published paper has been a bit of an eye-opener: “Eye tracking in MSN Search: Investigating snippet length, target position and task types

It examines how people use search and highlights two main types:

  • Navigational – where a user knows where they want to get to (e.g. a hotel, an organisation) and use the web to find the homepage
  • Informational – where a user has a question and needs to use the web to find an answer.

Form the above two descriptions I would see TRIP as being almost exclusively in the informational sector.

The researchers methodology used eye tracking to see where people looked on a search page and the effect of different variables on the search speed and accuracy. One feature they examined was the length of a snippet. The snippet being (typically) the 1-2 lines of text that typically appear in search engine results below the title. NOTE: TRIP does not have a snippet feature.

Without going on too much (read the article for more info) they found that, in informational tasks, the longer the snippet the quicker and more accurate the search. The main downside being that the longer the snippets the more users had to scroll to see the results.

Makes me think that we need to introduce a snippet function. Is this ‘Evidence-based search’?

Improvements to TRIP

We’re preparing ourself for the next round of improvements on TRIP. We’ve got some ideas including:

  • Use RSS feeds
  • Introduce more web 2.0 ideas (allow people to comment on articles, rate them etc)
  • Try and grab the conclusion, clinical bottom lines from articles so they can be viewed from within TRIP – as opposed to clicking on the link.
  • Enhance the search algorithm to further improve it.
  • An Amazon style feature for each entry with something like “people who looked at this article also looked at….”
  • Improve the search relevancy

However, these are just some thoughts we’re discussing. Here’s your opportunity to help decide where to take TRIP. Just let us know what you’d like to see, new features, improvements etc. and we’ll see what we can do. Contact us via this blog or the TRIP Database contact form.

We look forward to hearing from you.

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