Sunday, November 23, 2014

Google Scholar Turned 10 This Month

Let me start with links to profiles / interviews of Anurag Acharya, the IIT-KGP and Carnegie Mellon alum who co-created this wonderful service along with Alex Verstak. First up, an interview at the biggest scholarly venue of them all: Nature, where Richard Van Noorden interviews him: Google Scholar pioneer on search engine’s future.

Where did the idea for Google Scholar come from?

I came to Google in 2000, as a year off from my academic job at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It was pretty clear that I was unlikely to have a larger impact [in academia] than at Google — making it possible for people everywhere to be able to find information. So I gave up on academia and ran Google’s web-indexing team for four years. It was a very hectic time, and basically, I burnt out.

Alex Verstak and I decided to take a six-month sabbatical to try to make finding scholarly articles easier and faster. The idea wasn’t to produce Google Scholar, it was to improve our ranking of scholarly documents in web search. But the problem with trying to do that is figuring out the intent of the searcher. Do they want scholarly results or are they a layperson? We said, “Suppose you didn’t have to solve that hard a problem; suppose you knew the searcher had a scholarly intent.” We built an internal prototype, and people said: “Hey, this is good by itself. You don’t have to solve another problem — let’s go!” Then Scholar clearly seemed to be very useful and very important, so I ended up staying with it.

The second is a nice profile that I saw on Medium: Making the world’s problem solvers 10% more efficient [the URL text is even better: "the gentleman who made scholar"] by Steven Levy. Here's an excerpt from near the end, where Anurag is asked about his plans, now that Scholar has entered a mature phase:

Acharya is now 50. He’s excited about adding new features to Scholar — improving the “alerts” function and other forms that help users discover information important to them that they might not know is out there. Would he want to continue working on Scholar for another ten years? “One always believes there are other opportunities, but the problem is how to pursue them when you are in a place you like and you have been doing really well. I can do problems that seem very interesting me — but the biggest impact I can possible make is helping people who are solving the world’s problems to be more efficient. If I can make the world’s researchers ten percent more efficient, consider the cumulative impact of that. So if I ended up spending the next ten years going this, I think I would be extremely happy.”

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Anurag's Scholar profile is here. And the Google Scholar blog has been running a series of posts to mark its 10th anniversary: Start from Helping Researchers See Farther Faster, and look for newer posts.