Features - A Solo Researcher's Review of DialogPRO

Tara Calishain has authored or co-authored several books on using the Internet, including The Lawyer's Guide to Internet Research. She is the editor of ResearchBuzz, a free weekly newsletter on Internet search offerings and search engine news.

As an solo researcher, I know that there are some research services I can't afford. Many of them are oriented toward institutions, with appropriate pricing models, and I can't afford those unless I get rid of an arm and a leg.

When I heard that Dialog had launched DialogPRO, a news search service aimed at non-institutions (like small businesses), I was eager to take a look at it. There's no way that it'll take the place of the Dow Jones Publications Library, but if you're looking for a place where you can set up lots of e-mail alerts at a reasonable price, this is a good option.

Site Overview

Not that DialogPRO is cheap; it ain't. DialogPRO offers three levels of information -- Advertising Primary, News Primary, and News Plus. (We'll be looking at the news packages in this review.) News Primary offers access to 900 publications and starts at $60/month. News Plus has over 3,000 publications and starts at $90/month.

Here's how it works: visit the DialogPro site at http://dialogpro.dialog.com. (Internet Explorer's recommended; I couldn't get the site to work properly in Opera.) On the left you'll see a menu with offerings: advertising, news and pay-per-view (we'll come back to pay-per-view later.) Pick the news channel you want, primary or pro.

You'll get a search form allowing you to search keywords, full document, company name, or publication name. (Keywords search a combination of fields, while the full document search includes the entire document.) You can also specify the region you want to search (continent, for the most part) and the span of years you want to search.

Here's where DialogPRO really starts to show up as different from, say, the Dow Jones Publications Library (DLPL). The DJPL allows you to do very specific date searching; if I want to search for stories about Enron for one specific ten-day period in October 2001, I can. I can't do that with DialogPRO. This is not a service you want to use if you're doing heavy-duty news digging on topics that will give you an overwhelming number of results if you can't narrow down the dates.

Searching

Once you've entered your search term, a pop-up box will appear requesting your logon information. Log in and you'll be presented with a list of search results. Despite the fact that DialogPRO is an "all you can eat" site, with retrieved information not incurring additional cost, you'll be greeted with the warning, "Be sure to save or print; charges are incurred each time a record is displayed." Furthermore, each record returned has a cost next to it. Eddie Watkins, a Product Manager at Dialog, admits that this is confusing and says that information will be surpressed with the next release of the product (this summer.)

The search results appear in the pop-up box, ten at a time. One gripe I have is that the publication doesn't appear in the summary results. Instead, the database from which the publication comes. For example, a result from Information Today will be listed as coming from the Gale Group Magazine
database. Anyway, information on the results screen includes title, database of publication, and date of article. You can click on the title to get a single article.

To review more than one article, mark the checkboxes for the items you want to look and and click "Display Checked". If you've already reviewed one of the articles, you'll get the warning/error: "You previously paid to display one or more of these records. Display and pay for these records again?" strange behavior for an "all you can eat" article service.

Anyway, click Okay and you'll get one page with all the articles you requested. The articles have complete citation information, including the (correct) name of the publication, the volume and issue number, and the page number.

Due to the inability to narrow searches by date except by year, and the fact that archives don't go back as far, DialogPRO doesn't measure up at all to the Dow Jones Publications Library. But where it really shines is the fact that it's an "all you can eat" service (while the DJPL charges by the article), and its alert service.

Alert Service

If you like the results of a search, click on "Create an alert for this search" at the top of the page. (And again, you get a misleading message on the alert creation page: "There is no charge to receive Alerts - you pay only for the records you display!" This is just silly.) You enter an alert name, click on your account address or create a new address, and then pick what e-mail software you use to receive the alerts (if your software is not listed, you can choose a generic type.)

How the alerts appear in your e-mail address depends on your software. The alerts I received in Eudora appeared as attached HTML files, but I have the Microsoft viewer turned off.

The attached file looks just like the results page of a search you do from the Web site. You do have to log in with your name and password before you can access any of the stories, though.

Up to this point I've been complaining about the misleading text that might lead you to believe that DialogPRO is a "pay as you go service." There is actually one part of it that is a "pay as you go service," and that's the part marked as Pay Per View from the front page.

There are four categories of information here -- analyst reports, global company profiles, market research, and statistics. Analyst reports allow you to search by stock symbol, geographic area, and industry name, while the statistics article allows you to search by industry, "concept" (markets, products, services, government involvement, etc.), geographic region, and document type. The search results looked very much like they did for news search, but you will have to pay extra for these results. Prices vary; I saw reports for between $8-$9 USD, around $4, and as high as $30. Pay close attention to the prices on the reports so you don't get a nasty surprise on your credit card.

Conclusion

Initially when I reviewed DialogPRO I was very negative about it; I didn't like the date search options (such as they were), the archives seemed low, and a lot of the informative text was confusing or misleading. But I realized that I was comparing it with the Dow Jones Publications Library. DialogPRO is not to be compared with the Dow Jones Publications Library. Instead, it's better compared with a service like TracerLock. If you have a lot of news topics
you want to monitor, and you don't mind the somewhat convoluted way you have to retrieve search results (open the result page, pick an article, then log in and actually get the article) this is a great way to monitor the news, especially since you get unlimited news alerts and article retrieval.