The EBI Netnews Filtering Service
Modern researchers need to keep up-to-date with new advances in their fields of interest. While classical media, like books and journals are very valuable tools, the slow pace at which these publication methods work results often in delays which can render the information completely outdated by the time it reaches the reader.
For that reason more and more scientists are paying attention to electronic media: the efficiency with which they can publish results, get help, engage in tehnical discussions or even know in advance what is to be published in scientific journals has converted the USENET News into a very popular tools.
In the USENET News, people can organise special interest groups devoted to different topics. However, with the increasing popularity of this system, the traffic of information in each of the groups grows constantly, rendering them easily unmanageable. This in turn results in the creation of new groups for the discussion of more specialized topics.
As a result, a typical scientist will need to follow many specialized groups that are related to different aspects of his research as well as several general interest groups with great amounts of information just to be able to communicate with his colleagues and keep well informed of what is going on in the field.
The EBI Netnews Filtering Service tries to help scientists to extract from these groups the information that is really of interest for them: a search engine screens constantly all the articles published in all the scientific groups of USENET and keeps subscribers of the service informed of their topics of interest.
To use the service a scientist can choose between two different interfaces: one is the World Wide Web (WWW), by pointing a WWW browser (like Mosaic or Lynx) to the URL http://www.embl-ebi.ac.uk and the other is electronic mail, by sending a message to the address email@example.com. The first one has the advantage of allowing a direct interaction with the filtering system, but requires a greater network bandwidth, and may react too slowly, specially in business hours, a matter that is not an issue with electronic mail.
In both cases, the dynamics of the interaction are basically the same: the researcher defines a profile or set of profiles that the system will use to select the relevant articles. This profile is a series of keywords related to some scientific field. The user submits one or more profiles and requests to be notified of any new article that has appeared in relation with that profile with a given periodicity.
The profile is a series of keywords related to the topic of interest. It is important that these words accurately reflect those interests, and so care must be taken when choosing them. For that reason, the server provides facilities to help in making and tuning of this selection: first, one can submit requests interactively, without subscribing, getting some sample results and so being able to assess the quality of a profile. Second, once one has a subscription, one can later provide further feedback to let the computer know which kind of articles are to be preferred and ask it to try to confirm in the future to his preferences.
The interactive search capabilities can obviously also be used to make sporadic searches to find out what is going on in the field, if so desired. For example, let us suppose that some hypothetical doctor is interested in new advances in cancer therapy. He could just start with the simplest set of keywords, and make a search either by electronic mail or using WWW. If he feels satisfied with the results he can then subscribe to the service using those keywords.
In this example a person given in the box has (1) requested a search for the keywords "cancer" and "therapy" to test the system. After that (2) an electronic mail is sent back by the server with the results of the query (edited in the example for brevity). The user will now examine this answer, and decide if it is satisfactory enough to deserve a subscription and if it is, (3) send a message to request a subscription for those keywords.
In any case, once one is satisfied with a profile, one can submit a subscription request, indicating the electronic mail address to which messages should be delivered, the periodicity in days with which one wants to be notified, and even an expiry date if one knows in advance that he does not want to keep receiving reports after some date (e.g. on holidays). Each request can have an associated password to ensure that only he will have access to it. A sample subscription request has been shown in the box: as you can see, it is similar to the search message, only that this time it includes more options.
After sending the subscription, the customer will get a notification and a number for the subscription. This number can later be used, together with the password (if one is specified) to modify or tune the subscription or to ask for a cancellation if he wants to discontinue it. From there on and until the end of his subscription (or until he decides to cancel it), the computer will screen all the articles that are published in the scientific news groups, and select those that better match customer's profile.
With the periodicity that the customer requests, he will receive a mail message with a list of selected articles. To avoid flooding his mailbox with excess information, only the first lines of each article are included (one can also select how many lines are included with each article, by default it is set to 20). If some article does not fit entirely and customer is interested in it, he can always select it and request the server to send him a copy by electronic mail.
In conclusion, the Netnews Filtering Service at the EBI allows researchers to easily follow the articles published in USENET News by providing a filter that will select only those articles that match people's interests. It is not meant as a substitute to the actual USENET News, but as a complement to help follow and extract the significant information from them and hence save valuable time for researchers. Armed with the reports obtained, a scientist can extract more significant information and be more selective in his or her participation. To call upon a wider audience, the service provides two easy-to-use interfaces, an interactive one via the WWW and a non-interactive one via electronic mail.
One can get more information about the service on line with the WWW, or by sending a message containing only the word "help" in a line by itself to the e-mail address of the server (firstname.lastname@example.org). He can also ask the User Support team at the EBI to get more detailed information or to clarify any doubts he might have using the following electronic mail address: email@example.com
THE EBI NetNews Filtering Service
Jose R. Valverde
European Bioinformatics Institute
an EMBL Outstation, Hinxtor Hall
Hinxton. Cambridge CB10 1RQ
1. The request message
|From: Dr. Smith@somewhere.in.the.net
search cancer therapy
2. The answer from the server
To: Dr. Smith@somewhere.in.the.net
Profile Cancer therapy
From: rbrimes@ETJGATE.ELSEVIER. CO.UK (Rob Brimes)
Date: 15 May 1995 03:48:21 -0700
Subject: Immunology Today, June
First 20 lines:
|The following is the contents list for
Immunology Today, June 1995, due
for despatch to subscribers on 24/5/95
Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Targeting cancer with radiolabeled antibodies
D.M. Goldenberg, S.M. Larson, R.A. Reisfeld and J. Scholm
Complement regulatory molecules: application to therapy and transplantation
T-cell antoimmunity in multiple sclerosis
3. The subscription message
|From: Dr. Smith@somewhere.in.the.net
subscribe cancer therapy