FindArticles – Interview with Chris Broekhoff, Director of Content

The Search Lounge is very pleased to feature an exclusive interview with Chris Broekhoff, Director of Content for FindArticles is a free online search engine for magazines and articles. Its database has “5.5 million articles from over 900 publications”. Google Scholar recently went live with a similar product. These valuable services are changing the way people use article databases. In the past these expensive resources have only been available through libraries or other institutions that subscribe to them. Although the end-user gets free content either way, FindArticles is breaking the barrier between proprietary databases and free online content.

This interview was conducted exclusively via email, though in true Search Lounge style it was conceived of over pints of beer.
As a disclosure, Chris and I worked together from 1999-2003 at LookSmart, FindArticle’s parent company.

Chris, thanks for joining us at the Lounge. Can you give an introduction to FindArticles?
FindArticles is a targeted search product that gives users access to over 5 million research-quality articles from a wide variety of publications. The majority of articles in the product are free to view in their full text, and many of them can’t be found anywhere else on the web for free.

What is your role?
I oversee our content acquisition and management strategy. Basically I figure out what types of content our users want and then try to acquire it from publishers and other content owners.

How long has FA been around?
FindArticles has been around for about 4 years. The product had a pretty low profile until we relaunched it in late 2003 with expanded content and new features. Since then we’ve been focusing heavily on expanding our content and delivering features our users ask for.

What types of articles are available in FindArticles? And who supplies them?
Our goal with FindArticles is to create a one-stop shop for research-quality content on the widest possible range of topics. Right now you can find everything from art criticism from a publication like Art Journal, business and finance news and analysis from journals like Business Economics and Money Digest, political reporting from Harper’s, health and fitness information from specialized medical journals and consumer health magazines, and the latest on technology trends from titles like PC Magazine and eWeek. You can see a complete list of publications in FindArticles here:

Our biggest supplier of content is Thomson Gale, with whom we’ve had a strong relationship since we launched the product in 2000. Beyond Gale, we have a few direct relationships with publishers, and some partnerships with premium content services for our paid content.

How have users responded to FindArticles?
Users have responded very positively to the product, especially since we re-launched in late ’03 and began developing features that people had been asking us to build for a while, such as advanced searching and sorting options, and RSS feeds.

Can you tell us about the current state of searching and browsing on FindArticles? How about some useful tips and tricks for our readers?
Not surprisingly, most users who come to FindArticles enter simple keyword phrases in the search box. To these queries we return up to 2000 articles ranked according to relevance, using such things as word frequency and proximity. However, we offer a number of refinement features directly on the search results page if you don’t find what you want right away. Next to the search box you can limit your search to publications in a specific topic, and above the search results you can sort the articles by date, article length, and publication name. One of my favorite features is the ability to search within a publication or exclude it entirely from the search results. You can do this by clicking the “options” link next to each result in the list. Finally, a popular feature with users is the ability to exclude articles that you have to pay to view by clicking the “free articles only” box. And these are just the features that are available on the results page, by choosing the advanced search option, you can do more sophisticated things like search within certain database fields, exclude terms from your search, select specific publications, and limit your search to publication date ranges and article lengths. While we’ve put more emphasis on our search functionality, users can also browse topic categories and explore publications by issue.

How does your service differ from the databases available through my local public library? And as a follow-up, how do you think libraries should view services like FindArticles?
Unlike the databases you’ll find in your local library, FindArticles is developed as a consumer search product, so it’s generally more user-friendly and easier to search than the mix of databases that libraries offer. Through our experience with other search products, and our understanding of what users want and how they react to our products, we’re able to iterate on features and design in a way that continually improves FindArticles value to users. I don’t think you see that kind of focus on end users in the library databases. On the other hand, if you have the time to dig through them, libraries offer access to significantly more published content than we do, and if you have the expertise to search them, they have more advanced and complex features than FindArticles.

I think libraries should view FindArticles as complementary to what they offer their patrons. We offer casual to moderately serious researchers a convenient and comprehensive product, but we don’t really compete with the expertise that librarians can provide their customers, or the vast collection of published material, both in digital and print form, that libraries offer.

What is the business model for FindArticles? How do the database distributors make money from it?
FindArticles primary revenue is advertising, both contextual and search targeted. We share a percentage of the ad revenue with our content partners.

How many of the articles are free versus premium content that requires users to pay?
We don’t disclose exact numbers, but the majority are free to view.

What do you see as the future of free online article databases?
I’m optimistic that we’re going to see more and more published content available in free web product like FindArticles. There’s been a definite trend in usage towards web-based content, and as search-targeted and contextual advertising products continue to improve I think we’re going to see more publishers realizing that it’s in their best interest to get their content in front of as many web users as possible. At FindArticles we want to be on the forefront of this trend, but we also feel that the way to do this is to have a diverse offering of free and premium content. While we see a lot of value in a completely ad-supported model, it doesn’t necessarily work for all types of content. Our goal is to give our users access to as much content as possible, and give our content partners a variety of options to meet their goals.

Lastly, what is your favorite drink?
Vodka martini

Thanks Chris. Are there any other comments you would like to add?
Just that we are always looking for ways to improve the content and features of FindArticles, and I’d love to hear what your readers would like to see us do.

About Chris

I'm Chris and I've worked in the search engine industry since the late '90s.

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