In a move that consolidates the federated search sector of the library automation market, WebFeat has been acquired by ProQuest and will be merged into its Serials Solutions subsidiary. ProQuest is part of Cambridge Information Group, which also owns R.R. Bowker. Although Cambridge Information Group’s strategic focus has been on publishing and electronic content, the company has increasingly become involved in technology.
In addition to the many portfolio companies dealing with publishing, content, and other endeavors, Cambridge Information Group controls an increasing number of companies involved in library automation, with a focus on products involved with providing access to electronic content. Under ProQuest, Serials Solutions offers it 360 suite of products that help libraries manage and provide access to electronic content. R.R. Bowker recently acquired AquaBrowser, one of the leading new generation library interfaces.
R.R. Bowker also owns Syndetic Solutions, a company that provides content to enrich bibliographic records, such as cover art, summaries, reviews, and tables of contents. The addition of WebFeat to ProQuest results in a major consolidation in the federated search arena—narrowing the number of choices available to libraries.
WebFeat and Serials Solutions have until now been the two top competitors in the federated search arena. Federated search has been the primary focus of WebFeat throughout its business history. Serials Solution offers federated search as one of the components in its arsenal of tools for managing and providing access to electronic content. This acquisition essentially doubles the size of the federated search component of Serials Solutions’ business and makes it by far the leading company in this sector.
Serials Solutions indicates that it will sell and support both the WebFeat product and its own 360 Search through 2008, but that in 2009 there will be a single product that combines their features. Both Serials Solutions and WebFeat customers will be migrated to this new platform. Serials Solutions and WebFeat offer federated search as a hosted, or software as a service (SaaS), model. This approach greatly reduces the impact and any inconvenience of this transition to the users of these products. But the implications of the merger are clear. Previously two companies engaged in a vigorous competition for federated search. One of those competitors has been eliminated.
Serials Solutions and WebFeat dominated the federated search arena, but other products also joined the competition. Several library automation vendors have created their own federated search offerings: Ex Libris offers MetaLib, primarily to its target audience of academic libraries; Innovative Interfaces offers Research Pro, Infor offers V-Spaces; and Auto-Graphics offers AGent. On the open source front, Index Data has created MasterKey. Other companies involved in open source products such as LibLime and Care Affiliates offer service and support for MasterKey.
The acquisition of WebFeat brings into the Serials Solutions fold both the customer base built by WebFeat and important technology assets. Given the similarity of the products and the lack of convenient alternatives, it seems quite likely that the vast majority of WebFeat’s customers will transition into the followon federated search product that Serials Solutions will offer that blends the best components of WebFeat with its own 360 Search.
In order to ensure that its federated search products operate with the broadest possible range of target information sources, WebFeat developed an extensive library of translators. In addition to using these library of translators within its own products, WebFeat licensed its translators to other companies and organizations.
Given that the providers of the information products make frequent changes to their interfaces, the translators can be fragile and require constant adjustments. By licensing the connector library from WebFeat, companies developing federated search products can essentially outsource the constant effort involved in maintaining functional and fine-tuned connectors.
In its initial federated search offering, Serials Solutions licensed components from Federated Search, which were integrated with its own technology as part of its federated search offering, originally called Central Search, now known as 360 Search. The contract for the use of WebFeat connectors in 360 Search expired in Fall 2007 and Serials Solutions had been independently maintaining this layer of their product. With the acquisition of WebFeat, the company once again gains access to the WebFeat library of connectors. The preferred approach, however, has evolved toward the use of XML gateways, somewhat mitigating the need for these fragile connectors.
Another initiative, called Open Translators, was recently launched through a collaboration between WebFeat, Index Data, and Care Affiliates. Open Translators allows other federated search products, such as the open source MasterKey product, to take advantage of the library of translators developed by WebFeat. Serials Solutions indicates that it will continue to support this initiative.