Endeavor Information Systems reports a major transition in strategy for its OpenURL linking product. The company says it will cease development of LinkFinderPlus, and instead, it will offer its customers a new product based on TOUResolver from TDNet. The product will be marketed under the name Discovery: Resolver, as part of a new product family launched in January 2006. Discovery: Resolver joins Discovery: Finder, the company’s new metasearch component, which is also based on TDNet technology. The product name LinkFinderPlus will be discontinued. Libraries that currently use LinkFinderPlus will be offered the Discovery: Resolver product and will be converted over the course of the next year. TDNet’s relationship with Endeavor is a non-exclusive business partnership and does not involve any change in ownership. TDNet will continue to offer its products and technologies to other companies and libraries.
The Importance of OpenURL
OpenURL linking has become an almost-required component in any academic library’s environment, especially if the library’s collection is heavily comprised of e-resources. The technology retains wide acceptance by both publishers of electronic content and by the library community.
Essentially, OpenURL provides a mechanism for linking to electronic-based (or digital) resources according to their context—instead of linking through hard-coded and fixed URLs. This approach is especially helpful for linking to electronic-journal articles; for example, an OpenURL link resolver provides working links in the instance when a user comes across a citation or reference in one resource and the actual content to which it refers resides in another.
It’s also common for the same electronic-journal content to be available from multiple sources; in this scenario, OpenURL linking makes it possible to link users to the version of the copy to which their library subscribes, solving what’s often called the “appropriate copy problem.”
OpenURL works on the basis of creating a URL with embedded metadata that describes the article. The OpenURL can be processed by a link resolver that, based on the metadata and a profile of the library’s holdings, ascertains the location of the document.
Ex Libris established the genre of OpenURL link servers when it commercialized the SFX application developed by Herbert Van de Sompel at the University of Ghent in Belgium. SFX was launched as a commercial product in 2000, and since then, it has dominated the OpenURL market. Currently, more than 1,287 libraries use SFX. This number includes 63 consortium-wide implementations, plus 365 additional libraries with individual installations.
Endeavor, TDNet, and OpenURL
LinkFinderPlus was introduced in June 2001, and its first production release was in early 2002. During its five years on the market, Endeavor licensed LinkFinderPlus to about 75 libraries, but new sales have slowed in recent years. In its efforts to revitalize its products related to access of electronic resources, Endeavor has entered a strategic partnership with TDNet. In January 2006, Endeavor announced it would retire ENCompass for Resource Access in favor of TDNet’s federated-search product.
The replacement of LinkFinderPlus by TOUResolver technology takes that strategic relationship a step further, as TOUResolver offers capabilities not present in LinkFinderPlus. Also, one of the key advantages of TOUResolver lies in its ability to handle a wider range of resources, including those that don’t support OpenURL.
Endeavor’s product line now consists of four “foundation” products: the Voyager library-management system; the Meridian electronicresource management system; Curator, for building digital collections; and Journals Onsite, for local hosting of electronic journals. The company’s Discovery Layer products include: Discovery: Finder, a federated-search application, and Discovery: Resolver, an OpenURL-linking environment, both licensed from TDNet.
TDNet was established in 1998 as a spin-off of Teldan Information Systems, a major supplier of information resources and services to libraries in Israel. Teldan executives, Asher Sofrin and Aliza Friedman, saw the need for technologies that help libraries with managing and providing access to their growing electronic-content collections.
TDNet was established with financial backing from Delta Ventures, a firm that manages a $62 million investment fund. Based in Herzliya, Israel, Delta Ventures strategically invests in technology companies primarily in Israel. Other investors in TDNet include Landmark Partners, a private investment firm based in Simsbury, Connecticut, USA.
Development of the TDNet concept and subsequent products began as early as 1998, and the first institution to implement TDNet was Israel’s Ben Gurion University. The TDNet product was launched commercially at the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) conference held in Jerusalem in August 2000. The company introduced its TOUResolver in 2003, and in July 2004, TDNet acquired another Israeli company, VirtualSelf, in order to add VirtualSelf ’s technology that powers its Search Analyzer federated-search product.
TDNet products are now installed in more than 500 libraries worldwide, and more than 100 libraries use TOUResolver. TDNet has also expanded well beyond its original territory in Israel; a U.S. subsidiary, TDNet, Inc., was established in February 2001, with Michael Markwith appointed as president. In addition, OCLC PICA distributes TDNet products in Europe.
The TDNet product suite includes: Search Analyzer, a federated-search solution; Journal Manager, a product for accessing collections of electronic journals, which includes a front-end interface and a knowledge base of the library’s holdings; the TOUResolver link server; and Holdings Manager, a weekly service that delivers updated holdings’ information that can be loaded into the library’s catalog. TDNet can be operated either in the ASP (Application Service Provider) model, with all software hosted on TDNet’s servers, or the library can install the software on its own servers.
Other ILS companies have also forged relationships with TDNet. In November 2004 VTLS announced its OpenURLlinking product would be based on TOUResolver, and Polaris Library Systems also offers TOUResolver.
ILS Vendors Targeting Specialized Technologies
Endeavor’s change in product strategy reflects a trend among ILS vendors; they are relying more on technologies they acquire from other companies, other vendors, and development firms with deeper capabilities within a given area of specialization. Examples are numerous:
- SirsiDynix relies on Openly Informatics for its link-resolver technology;
- SirsiDynix relies on MuseGlobal as the basis for its SingleSearch product; and
- The Library Corporation, EOS International, and SydneyPLUS offer WebFeat for metasearch.
The companies that sell automation products to libraries must have offerings in all established product categories in order to stay competitive, yet that doesn’t necessarily mean they must develop each product from scratch. In many cases, a sound product strategy consists of licensing technology from a third party, developing whatever software might be needed to integrate that technology into its existing products, and providing support.
Considering the rate at which individual technologies are developed in this early part of the twenty-first century, it’s necessary for companies to make difficult choices about the products they will build entirely from scratch and about other vendors’ or firms’ technology or products they will license and integrate into their own offerings. Specialized products, such as those that perform metasearch and OpenURL linking, are complex and require significant resources to develop and maintain but offer few opportunities for differentiation.
In the case of LinkFinderPlus, it’s clear the size of its installed base was not sufficiently large to support its ongoing development, and although it may be inconvenient for existing customers to be required to shift away from LinkFinderPlus, the replacement product offers significantly expanded capabilities. According to Endeavor CEO/president Roland Dietz, the company considers its relationship with TDNet a strategic partnership—not a simple outsourcing of some of its technical development. Additionally, one of Endeavor’s greatest assets involves access to the User-Centered Design group within its parent company, Elsevier. Input from this group will drive customizations, which TDNet will execute for the versions of its applications that will be made available to Endeavor’s customers. These user-interface customizations will be part of the Endeavor-branded version and will not be available to TDNet’s other clients.
Endeavor considers TDNet a partner with deep expertise in this area, which will, ultimately, enable it to create better products for libraries and their users. By steering these development efforts to TDNet, Endeavor will be able to focus on new products to fulfill its strategic direction.