The Editors were recently asked to investigate the Trialogue three party telecommunications switch used by several groups in the western U.S. to facilitate cooperative or conference searching of remote data bases. When installed on a "master" search terminal, the switch enables screen images of the online dialogue between the search terminal and the host computer of the remote data base service to be displayed on a third "quest" terminal. In Simultaneous Remote Searching mode, the switch permits the searcher at the master terminal to periodically query the user at the guest terminal for feedback On the progress of the search, and the direction on the action to be taken while executing a search against the remote host. Trialogue allows an information requestor at a location distant from the data base searcher to participate in search formulation, refinement, and reference selection as if both request or and participant were in the same room.
The switch is being used to support a Simultaneous Remote Searching Service at the Eastern Oregon State College in La Grande, Oregon. Available to users throughout ten counties in eastern Oregon, the service is funded by LSCA and Fred Meyer grants. A user requiring a data base search contacts the service by phone to outline the information need and arrange for a search appointment. To participate in the conference search, the user needs a personal computer with a 300 or 1200 baud modem linked to a phone line.
At the appointed time the searcher at the master terminal at the College establishes the link with the user, puts the user on hold, and accesses the remote service. The screen display from the searcher's terminal appears simultaneously on the user's screen. In SRS mode, the user can interact with the searcher only in response to a query from the searcher. The user cannot interrupt the searcher at will.
The Eastern Oregon service uses a 22 mode fax network linking public, hospital, college and academic and school district libraries to deliver copies of documents identified by simultaneous remote searching. The coordinator of the service, Patricia Cutright, says that turnaround from completion of a search to delivery of document copies is usually achieved in one day.
The Oregon service began as a pilot project in 1982 and has been fully operational for two years. The Trialogue switch has proven to be robust and easy to maintain. The majority of service interruptions have been caused by weather and other physical interference with the above ground phone lines in the region. Similar simultaneous remote service networks are being established by the Montana State Law Library and the University of South Dakota at Vermillion.
The Trialogue switch also supports an Interactive Simultaneous Remote Search mode which allows total keyboard control to be passed between the master and guest terminals. In this mode, either terminal can interrupt the one with keyboard control at any stage. This mode is particularly useful in remote data base search training; in controlling access to private data bases--the individual authorized to access the data base can establish connections and enter security passwords privately, and then turn the system over to the remote searcher; and in applications in which a remote user is testing proprietary software.
The Trialogue switch is available from PGM Communications, P.O. Box 7344, Eugene, OR 97401 for $250. Prepayment is required unless the order is accompanied by an institutional purchase order. The price includes the necessary cables and installation instructions. Delivery can normally be accomplished in 30 days from receipt of the order.
A detailed article on the Trialogue switch by Trautman and King appeared in Online magazine in September 1983. For further information on the Eastern Oregon application contact: Ms. Patricia Cutright, Eastern Oregon State College, 8th and IC Streets, La Grande, OR 97850; telephone (503) 963-1792.