Guest post by Bart Trawick, PhD, director of the Customer Services Division at the National Library of Medicine’s National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Institutes of Health.
NLM’s PubMed has long been recognized as a critical resource for helping researchers, health care professionals, students, and the general public keep current with rapid advances in the life sciences. We are excited to introduce an updated version of PubMed that features an updated design and technology to improve the user experience.
Launched in 1996 as an experimental website, PubMed has provided an easy, effective way to search a large portion of the published biomedical literature free of charge. The importance of PubMed is evidenced by its heavy use. Each day, more than 2 million people use PubMed to search a corpus of more than 30 million abstracts and citations, making it one of the most frequently used U.S. government websites.
While PubMed has always been viewed as a valuable and effective resource, we regularly ask ourselves, “How can we improve it?”
A History of Listening
Over the past 24 years, we have continuously updated and refined PubMed to keep pace with ever-changing information technologies and added features and enhancements to make it easier for users to find relevant information quickly. Along the way, we made two major updates to the web interface (one in 2000 and another in 2010) and introduced a separate mobile version of PubMed, in 2011.
Several important factors make these advances possible: strong leadership at NLM, talented development teams, and publisher partners who provide not only content but also feedback on how to improve the intake and presentation of the content. However, the most important factor is the many users who access PubMed and then take the time to tell us how we can improve it.
Kicking It up a Notch
In early 2017, we launched a comprehensive effort to take PubMed to the next level. Our goal was to transform PubMed into a modern hub with a fast, reliable, intuitive search that connects people to the world’s leading sources of biomedical information.
In order to connect people to the information they seek, you need to have a great retrieval engine. Under the leadership of NLM’s Zhiyong Lu, PhD, and his team, we enhanced the retrieval engine, using advanced machine-learning technology to develop a new relevance search algorithm. This algorithm optimizes the quality of top-ranked results and is used by PubMed’s new Best Match feature for sorting search results.
On the technology side, we have a completely new chassis. We’ve moved to an open-source search platform which our Operations and DevOps teams were critical in moving to the cloud, providing greater scalability and reliability. And to deliver the best possible experience, our front-end developers produced a modern, responsive website that is optimized for the needs of today’s information seeker.
To truly understand the needs of PubMed users — and how best to deliver solutions that meet those needs — we needed you. Together with our friends from 18F, we engaged with a broad array of users; analyzed customer service data; reviewed survey responses; and tested dozens of design solutions and enhancements with expert PubMed users, novices, and everyone in between.
If there was one thing we learned during this effort, it was that our initial assumptions and ideas weren’t always right — reinforcing that we must continue to listen to our users and make iterative improvements.
Trying Out the New PubMed
We invite you to experience the latest version of PubMed for yourself!
- Are you looking for the most relevant papers in a given area? Try the Best Match sort option.
- Are you writing a grant proposal or peer-reviewed manuscript? We expect that the Cite button will come in quite handy.
- Are you a power user constructing a systematic review? The Advanced Search workflow has been updated to be more intuitive and flexible.
- Do you need to access PubMed while away from your desktop? Your mobile device now provides the same full-featured experience via PubMed’s modern, responsive design.
At the bottom of each page of the new site you will find a green Feedback button. Whether you think the new version of PubMed is the bee’s knees just the way it is, or you have a great insight on how to make it better — we will be waiting to hear from you.
As director of the Customer Services Division, Dr. Trawick works to connect customers with the vast information resources available from NLM’s National Center for Biotechnology Information. He has also worked to support the National Institutes of Health Public Access Policy since its establishment in 2005. Dr. Trawick is a graduate of Texas A&M University and the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.