Using The Informant for Searching for Analytical Chemistry Information on the World Wide Web

Stephen R. Heller

USDA, ARS, Beltsville, MD 20705
(srheller@gig.usda.gov)

Over the past two years these columns have covered a variety of topics in the area of chemistry and the Internet. One of the valuable features of the world-wide web (WWW) version of these columns has been the hot links to the references. As anyone who has used the WWW knows there is a great deal of material and information, which either is very difficult to find or not worth finding. Coupled with the current overloading of the communications lines (often called WWW - for World Wide Wait), some people are beginning to wonder if this resource will really live up to its potential and promise. I can't really give an accurate answer to that question. What I hope I can do in this column is to provide an example of what one can do now to find something on the WWW. The computer system described here provides a way to easily find some possible useful chemistry information that is now on the WWW.

There are two main types of information available on the WWW - that which is free (i.e., you don't pay for it directly) and that which requires a fee. From there one can divide each category into two main areas - those that contain useful information and those which contain less than useful to useless information. What is (to me) particularly frustrating is spending a great deal of time looking for something, and then to find it is useless. (For example the time I discovered a reference to "chemistry" in a popular magazine which turned out to involve the chemistry between an actor and an actress or, better still, between a football quarterback and his wide receiver).

For those who have grown up with fee-based scientific information resources (DIALOG, ISI, Questel-Orbit, CAS/STN, and so on), one of the features of early information systems was something called "selective dissemination of information" or SDI. This involved a scientist (usually in conjunction with someone from the library or information department) making a list of keywords or phrases (called a search profile) which would entered into the computer and used to search a database every time it was updated (usually every 1-2 weeks). These SDI searches were generally useful and still exist even with today's online searching. (For example the "keep me posted" function of the CAS SciFinder system is an SDI capability.) This column will describe one such an SDI service now available from Dartmouth College. The Informant is your own personal search agent on the Internet. When it comes to the Internet, the equivalent buzzword for searching is called an "intelligent agent". A number of commercial companies have been developing these, but the one I want to describe here is available at no cost. In the information provided at their web site, the creators of this system describe The Informant as a notification service that works in two ways (1):
1. You can enter up to three sets of keywords or phrases. At a periodic interval of 3, 7, 14 or 30 days (the user specifies the interval), The Informant uses the AltaVista or Lycos search engine to find the ten web site pages that are most relevant to the keywords or phrases used. When a new web site page appears in the top ten, or if one of the previous top ten web site pages has been updated, The Informant sends you an e-mail message.
2. You can enter up to five URL's that are of particular interest to you. At a periodic interval of 3, 7, 14 or 30 days (again, which you specify), The Informant checks these Web pages and sends you e-mail if one or more of them have been updated. Once you receive the e-mail, you return to The Informant where you will find a table of the Web pages that are new or updated. What follows is a real example from how to start to looking at search results.

How to Start and Use The Informant

For a new user one simply goes to The Informant WWW main screen (http://informant.dartmouth.edu) and clicks on the checkbox to the left of the "I'm a new user!" label (see below). Then one enters any desired username (I used TrAC1 as my name for the puproses of setting up an account to write this column) and password (again I used TrAC1) in the username and password boxes. Finally, click on the GO! button. (In case the username is already in use, The Informant will tell you this and you will have to pick a different username. If the username is not in use, you will be taken to a preferences screen where you enter your e-mail address, your three sets of keywords, and your five URL's.

For existing or already registered users you just go to The Informant home page (http://informant.dartmouth.edu), enter your existing username and password (in this example TrAC1 and TrAC1), and click on the GO! button. You are then connected to a results screen where you will see a table of new and updated Web pages. If you want to change your preferences you can click on the Change my account information! button at the top of the results screen.

Changing a Search and/or a URL?

If you want to change your search or find a useful Internet site you can change you search. All you need to do is go to the preferences page. There are two ways to get there.

Once you are on your preferences page, you can change your e-mail address, the number of days between e-mail updates, your search keywords, and your special URL's. Change whatever you want and then click on the All done! Save my changes! button at the top or bottom. If you do not click on this button, your changes will not be saved!

Since all searches at done at night, your results page will not actually change until the next day.

The future of The Informant?

The developers have indicated that they hope to do a number of additional things with The Informant .

An Example of Using The Informant

What follows is an SDI search I set up for myself using the following three keywords:
1. Chromatography
2. Spectrometry
3. Spectroscopy

For this particular search I did not specify any of my favorite URL's. I first connected to this web site by pointing my browser to:
http://informant.dartmouth.edu.
The following screen then appeared:


AutoLogin Questions? Who's Talking Contact us Advertising Licensing
Change your account information Change your password Remove your account


Forgot your password?

I'm a new user!
I'm a registered user.
Username


Password

  • The Informant is a FREE !! service that will save your favorite keyword queries and URL's, check them periodically, and send you email whenever there are new or updated web pages.
  • New users should click on the circle or box to the left of I'm a new user!, then enter any desired username and password, and finally click on the Go! button.
    Questions ? Need more info ? Here are the answers.
  • Existing users should enter their username and password and then click on the Go! button.
  • Passwords can include lower- and uppercase characters (CaSe-SeNsItIvE!!).


Link to the Informant from your page!

The Informant is driven by the AltaVista and Lycos search engines.

These pages are optimized for Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer


Now serving 9591 customers
© 1995, 1996 Aditya Bhasin, George V. Cybenko, Bob Gray, Katsuhiro Moizumi :
The Informant Development Team.
Informant Logo © 1995,1996 Brian Brewington
Questions, comments ? Write to the Development Team
Server statistics for the Informant


After indicating I am a new user and typing in my user name (TrAC1) and user password (TrAC1) and clicking on the "Go!" button, the following new screen appears:


Image © Brian Brewington 1996


Welcome, trac1, to The Informant

The Informant allows you to input 3 sets of keywords that you like to search for, and 5 favorite URLs. We will check these at an interval you specify, and tell you by email if those pages have been updated, or if new URLs appear for your keywords.

Enter your data in the appropriate spaces below. Then hit either of the All done! Save my changes! buttons.


Informant Preferences...

Your full e-mail address :

example : myname@myhost.com

Check for updated sites every days.




Choice of Search Engine...

Enter the search engine you would like us to use to perform your searches. For more information about the different search engines, you can visit the search engine's site by clicking on the site's name or icon.

Lycos
Altavista
Don't Care We'll pick one for you




Keywords...


Enter your favorite search keywords in the spaces below. We will perform internet searches on these keywords, and tell you when the top 10 sites change, or if there are any new top sites that match your keywords !!

Note that we perform OR-style queries so it is possible that you will get documents that include only some of the keywords. We will add AND-style queries this fall.

example :
KeyWord Set 1 : chocolate chip cookie

Key Word Set 1 :

Key Word Set 2 :

Key Word Set 3 :


Extra URLs...


Enter the addresses (URLs) of your favorite pages. We will monitor them and tell you when anything changes

example :
Extra URL 1 : http:// my.favorite-site.com

Extra URL 1 : http://

Extra URL 2 : http://

Extra URL 3 : http://

Extra URL 4 : http://

Extra URL 5 : http://


How did you hear about us? (completely optional but appreciated)


©1995, 1996 Aditya Bhasin, George V. Cybenko, Bob Gray, Katsuhiro Moizumi :
The Informant Development Team.
Questions, comments ? Write to the Development Team


The next when I logged into my computer to read my e-mail, one of the messages I received was the following:

Date: Wed, 06 Nov 1996 00:40:51 -0400
From: Informant Administration <info_adm@cosmo.dartmouth.edu>
Subject: New material at The Informant

Hello,
The Informant has discovered new information!

30 new WWW page(s)
0 updated WWW page(s)
3 unreachable WWW page(s)

To see your new and updated pages, please come vist us at
http://informant.dartmouth.edu/
Remember that your username is: TrAC1
Note that if you do not visit, we will keep reporting the
*same* sites in this e-mail message.
Power users can once again reach the Informant via
http://informant.dartmouth.edu/index.cgi?username=TrAC1
If you are tired of receiving this e-mail, please visit
the Web site and increase the number of days between
updates, blank out your e-mail address, or remove
yourself from the service.
Your faithful servant,
The Informant


After I received this above e-mail I went back to The Informant site on the WWW, logged in, and received the following:

Web sites can be ...

NEW! New
UPDATED! Updated
UNREACHABLE! Unreachable
About the Informant Contact us Informant Home Page
Change your password Remove your account



Here are your latest results !!

The table below shows the site, its address, and its current status. In the third column, we tell you if the site shown came from a keyword set or a URL that you have specifically asked to be monitored.

Rank Status Source Site
1 / 10 NEW! KeyWords
chromatography
H igh Osmotic Pressure Chromatography and Phase Fluctuation Chromatography
http://aps.org/BAPSMAR96/abs/S2560010.html
2 / 10 NEW! KeyWords
chromatography
Biotech Bunny: Liquid Chromatography
http://www.eng.rpi.edu/dept/chem-eng/Biotech-Environ/CHROMO/chromliquid.html
3 / 10 NEW! KeyWords
chromatography
Journal of Chromatography A (Special Issues)
http://www.elsevier.com/catalogue/SA2/205/06040/06050/521179/521179.html
4 / 10 NEW! KeyWords
chromatography
Affinity Chromatography
http://www.biotech.pharmacia.se/affinity/affinity.htm
5 / 10 NEW! KeyWords
chromatography
Journal of Chromatography A (Special Issues)
http://www.elsevier.nl/catalogue/SAA/205/06040/06050/521179/521179.html
6 / 10 NEW! KeyWords
chromatography
Chromatography
http://www.servicom.es/addlink/scishop/categ/cat15.html
7 / 10 NEW! KeyWords
chromatography
JOURNAL OF CHROMATOGRAPHY A, Volume A707, Issue 1 Workshop on Chromatography,
http://www.elsevier.nl/cas/estoc/contents/SA2/00219673/SZ957987.html
8 / 10 NEW! KeyWords
chromatography
P erSeptive Biosystems - Perfusion Chromatography
http://www.ultranet.com/~pbweb/perchro.htm
9 / 10 NEW! KeyWords
chromatography
JOURNAL OF CHROMATOGRAPHY A, Volume A691, Issue 1-2 18th International Symposi
http://www.elsevier.nl/cas/estoc/contents/SA2/00219673/SZ957942.html
10 / 10 NEW! KeyWords
chromatography
JOURNAL OF CHROMATOGRAPHY B: BIOMEDICAL APPLICATIONS, Volume 664, Issue 1 Bio-
http://www.elsevier.nl/cas/estoc/contents/SA2/03784347/SZ957983.html
1 / 10 NEW! KeyWords
spectrometry
SIUC Mass Spectrometry Facility at SIUC
http://www.science.siu.edu/mass-spec/index.html
2 / 10 NEW! KeyWords
spectrometry
Mass Spectrometry (CST-8)
http://mwanal.lanl.gov/../../CST-8/massspec.html
3 / 10 NEW! KeyWords
spectrometry
NCSU Mass Spectro metry Facility
http://ch9000.chem.ncsu.edu/
4 / 10 NEW! KeyWords
spectrometry
European Mass Spectrometry
http://www.impub.co.uk/ems.html
5 / 10 UNREACHABLE! KeyWords
spectrometry
The Chemistry Department Spectrometry Lab : Home Page
http://www.mit.edu:8001/afs/athena.mit.edu/org/s/speclab/www/
6 / 10 NEW! KeyWords
spectrometry
Mass Spectrometry at Utrecht University
http://www.chem.ruu.nl/amsmass/www/teaching.html
7 / 10 NEW! KeyWords
spectrometry
Bruker Mass Spect rometry
http://applab.bruker.com/ms/
8 / 10 NEW! KeyWords
spectrometry
Bruker Mass Spectrom etry
http://www.bruker.com/ms/
9 / 10 NEW! KeyWords
spectrometry
EMBL Mass Spectrometry Page
http://mac-mann6.embl-heidelberg.de/MassSpec/MS.html
10 / 10 NEW! KeyWords
spectrometry
M-Scan provides Mass S pectrometry services in chemical, pharmaceutical, oil, e
http://www.m-scan.com/
1 / 10 UNREACHABLE! KeyWords
spectroscopy
Spectroscopy
http://chipo.chem.uic.edu/SpecHome.html
2 / 10 NEW! KeyWords
spectroscopy
Emission Spectroscopy, Analytical Microwave Spectroscopy, Analytical Applicati
http://www.elsevier.com/catalogue/SA2/205/06020/06024/501093/501093.html
3 / 10 NEW! KeyWords
spectroscopy
Souther n California Clinical Spectroscopy Service
http://www.hmri.org/~soccss/1HMRS.html
4 / 10 NEW! KeyWords
spectroscopy
Spectroscopy: Relating Spectroscopy to the Wavefunction
http://www-wilson.ucsd.edu/education/spectroscopy/spwaveelectron.html
5 / 10 NEW! KeyWords
spectroscopy
Spectroscopy: Relating Spectroscopy to the Wavefunction
http://www-wilson.ucsd.edu/education/spectroscopy/spwavespectra.html
6 / 10 NEW! KeyWords
spectroscopy
Stud y of DX centers in Zn_0.2Cd_0.8Te:Cl by thermoelectric effect spectroscopy
http://aps.org/BAPSMAR96/abs/S800039.html
7 / 10 NEW! KeyWords
spectroscopy
Internet Catalogue Spectroscopy
http://www.elsevier.com/catalogue/SA2/205/06080/06080/Menu.html
8 / 10 UNREACHABLE! KeyWords
spectroscopy
Southern California Clinical Spectroscopy Service
http://www.pi.net/~sofa/homeuk.htm
9 / 10 NEW! KeyWords
spectroscopy
Spectroscopy Links on the WWW
http://www.ibd.nrc.ca/~mansfield/spec_links.html
10 / 10 NEW! KeyWords
spectroscopy
Vibrational Spectroscopy
http://www.elsevier.nl/catalogue/SA2/205/06080/06080/504273/504273.html


Thank you for using the The Informant. Please Come Again !

© 1995, 1996 Aditya Bhasin, George V. Cybenko, Bob Gray, Katsuhiro Moizumi :
The Informant Development Team.
Questions, comments ? Write to the Development Team

Summary

For someone wanting to find what information is available on the WWW in the area of analytical chemistry, The Informant is a quick and easy way to get started. As this facility improves, and others like it are developed, these personal search agent engines will become more prevalent. While not a real alternative to the commercial databases for chemical information, these are a cheap and easy way to get started. They are also a good way to learn how to create and modify search profiles.

Over time I would expect that all journal publishers will finally get themselves organized and make the names of authors, titles of papers, and abstracts of their journals available via the WWW, and these intelligent search agent engines will become very valuable tools for chemists. Besides obtaining information much faster from the journal publishers (as opposed to the secondary information services such as ISI and Chemical Abstracts Service who need to wait until they get the journal information from the publisher) one will be able to get this information at no cost, which should reduce the need and cost of searching DIALOG , Questel-Orbit, CAS/STN , and other such fee-based information services. This notion of using the using the Internet as a first step in a search process is not new, but it has not yet come to chemistry. With a little effort on the part of journal publishers, good intelligent agents, and an informed community of users, this process may well become one of the really practical and useful aspects of the Inernet.

References

(1) With permission (e-mail from Robert Gray of October 29, 1996) I have borrowed heavily from the material provided at this web site in describing their system.

(2)The Informant is a service of the Computer Engineering Group at Dartmouth College. The developers are Aditya Bhasin, Professor George V. Cybenko, Bob Gray and Katsuhiro Moizumi.