Trip Database Blog

Liberating the literature


answer engine

The future of Trip

I’m not sure how many of these ‘the future of Trip’ articles I’ve written over the years, but there have been a few.  I like to set out my current thinking of the direction of Trip with some reflections on the past.

Business model – our move to a freemium business model last year (most of the site free but a ‘pro’ section for those willing to pay for extra content and functionality) has been a great success.  For years we have been concerned about the financial security of Trip and this new approach has allowed us to diversify our income streams and bring the security we craved!

New Design – It’s been out for a few weeks now and I’m loving it and the reaction.  We rolled out a few new features but it was more cleaning up the interface.  It was a major piece of work and it’s great that this particular project has finished.

Answer engine – This has been talked about for years and it’ll finally be here shortly.  It’ll be a learning system to give answers as well as search results.

As all this has been going on as I’ve been reading the very interesting ‘Business for Punks‘ which is an overview of the rise of the Scottish brewery Brewdog.  It’s refreshing and has given me the inspiration to write this post.  One big factor in their success has been the relationship with their customers, in effect, being their brand ambassadors – helping promote the business and the brand.  To a large extent this happens with Trip.  We have lots of fans and a great connection and I can always rely on our registered users to help out when I need advice. But one thing that Brewdog have shown is that you cannot do enough customer/user engagement.  So, I’m hoping to reflect on better ways of making the Trip users feel part of Trip.

But another really powerful message is to properly define what you’re trying to do and really focus on making that magical.  This is something I’ve been pondering for a while and this book helped crystallize my thinking:

What is Trip about?

Trip started as a service to my work answering clinical questions for general practitioners in Gwent, South Wales in 1997.  Q&A is my passion.  When we ask users about Trip we get three main reasons for using the site:

  • Clinicians seeking answers to their clinical questions.
  • Information specialists carrying out literature reviews for systematic reviews, guidelines etc.
  • Academics using the site to plan research.

The focus of Trip developments has always been the top reason (Q&A) but I’ve been keen to support the other two.  I think this will always be the case.  But I do think I may have lost sight of what the Q&A component means.  What do I want the site to do, in relation to Q&A?  A few alternatives:

The best place for health professionals to obtain answers to their clinical questions


Clinical question answering heaven


The ‘go to’ place for clinical question answering

They all amount, roughly, to the same thing.  The top one answers it best albeit being a bit wordy (but we can work on that).  So, the plans for the next major developments involve supporting clinical question answering!  This requires a number of components:

Answer engine – as mentioned above it’ll be rolled out soon.  It won’t be perfect but it’s a great start and it’s a learning system so it’ll get better with time.

Search algorithm – we’ve followed the same basic algorithm for years, arranging results based on a mixture of word matching (between search term(s) and documents in the Trip index), year of publication and quality of the publisher.  This is fine, to a point, but search has moved on massively and we’ve not moved with the times.  So, we will be looking to overhaul this.  As part of my work in the KConnect I will be working with information retrieval experts to exploit current ‘best practice’.

Belief – Underlying the changing has to be a belief that we can be the best.

Community – Trip needs to state our aim to be the best and to actually be the best. This will rely on our community of users letting us know when we’re great and when we’re less than great. So, our engagement with users needs to be enhanced – from good to great.

So, Trip’s future:

Community and site moving closer together to deliver something magical


Creating a Q&A environment in Trip

For those of you who’ve followed this blog for a while will see that I’m always revisiting the answer engine concept, most recently two months ago. A month before that I mentioned it in the context of a a Journal of Clinical Q&A

This all stems from my belief that Trip is a wonderful tool to answer clinical questions but a also belief that it could be even better!  After all, it was the reason I started it in the first place – to help me answer clinical questions via the ATTRACT Q&A serviceSurveys have shown that many clinicians agree, with over 70% of questions, supporting clinical care, are helped by using Trip.

Recapping briefly on the answer engine and the Journal of Clinical Q&A:

  • The answer engine will try to predict questions from the search terms and insert an answer above the search results.  Users will get an answer in one click.
  • Journal of Clinical Q&A is a journal idea – radically different from any other journal.  It will be a structured answer to a clinical question, posted on the site (and helping populate the answer engine) which will be peer-reviewed and given a citation.

So far, fairly radical and fairly good.

Now, another variable to consider – the PICO search system.  In the forthcoming upgrade we’ll be enhancing this feature in the premium version.  It will be more guided than the existing version and it could work like this:

  1. Users types in their full-text question.
  2. Users then select the PICO elements from the question.
  3. Users view relevant results.
  4. Users are given the option to write up an answer. If they write up the answer we will show them the articles they’ve looked at and they can indicate which were useful (and thereby form the reference list).
  5. They can choose to keep it private or share it – feeding the answer engine.

Another powerful component for a Q&A environment, what could go wrong (I ask tentatively!)?

The Trip Answer Engine (again)

With the move to the next upgrade – and a freemium Trip the notion of the Answer Engine appears again. I’ve talked about the Answer Engine for at least 4 years but previously I’ve never had the conviction that it’ll work.  The idea is great: infer a question from the search terms and show ‘the’ answer.

It’s because I like the idea so much I keep coming back to it. I’ve done a mock-up of how it might look.

I’m waiting to hear from one publisher about using their content. If they agree that I can re-use their content it’ll be thousands of Q&As ready to go and I’ll be ready to commit to getting it off the ground.

I’m also talking to other publishers about their willingness to participate. We get Q&As and they get their content in a prime position on Trip, a win:win in my book! Other than that I’ll be undertaking another user survey and will ask then if people want to volunteer to add a few Q&As. If everything falls into place we’ll have a reasonable chance of making it work!

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