I will come clean straight away, First, after a couple of tries I found the BIDS Telnet interface pretty intuitive and second I am on record as being rather sceptical as to whether a web interface to BIDS could have the same degree of functionality as the Telnet interface. I will probably find, however, if I do a bit of searching in the archives, that similar points were raised at the time of the change from pad to Telnet access of the databases.
Last week at Libtech the BIDS team bravely allowed the world a sneak preview of their barely finished first release web interface. It didn't look too pretty but we were assured it would better by the time of the initial release at the end of September. Personally, I found it pretty clear as it was - a few minor twicks maybe, but that's all.
Sensibly, BIDS is not attempting to make a wholesale change from the present Telnet interface to the web version in one go. Rather their idea is to gradually introduce more functionality into the web interface over time, while having both interfaces running in parallel. The Web interface is planned initially for the ISI databases only. The first release will not include citation searches, patents or research fronts. Full functionality should be in place by Christmas 1996.
As for the way it actually works, this might appear very different compared to what the Telnet user would expect. Obviously there is the difference of moving from a keyboard driven interface to one that allows use of a mouse, but possibly more disconcertingly for the Telnet user, gone are the display and output menus - no longer does the user have to exit the search menu and select display and so on. All results are displayed on screen and the level of display (unchanged) is chosen by the user before the search is conducted. It is possible to move effortlessly from the barest bibliographic information (e.g. title, author, journal) for a particular record (or even a group of marked records) to a full complete record simply by clicking a button. Users can page through results a full record at a time, or scan an abbreviated list. Records can still be marked and emailed to the user as before but now all this can happen directly from the display screen.
The use of buttons on the interface allows the user to navigate within the database, without having to rely on their browser's back and forward functions, and may well give the user a greater sense of where they are in the database (always a problem in the Telnet interface, despite each screen being labelled).
The Web interface also has the potential to be a very powerful full text retrieval interface. With the advent of the HEFC electronic journals scheme, the BIDS web interface will eventually be able to link from a bibliographic record of an article, to the actual article. At present a single web search-interface to Blackwell's Scientific, Blackwell's Publishing and Academic Press under the HEFC agreement is being developed by BIDS (this also was on show at LIBTECH). It has the advantage that the user only need remember their BIDS username and password - details of which journals they can access through the HEFC agreements are held centrally. This facility will be integrated in the first release, initially for Blackwell's Scientific journals only, thus if a user tries to order an article through one of the BIDS databases, the system will be intelligent enough to know if the users institution already has access to the electronic version and present the user with this, instead of an order form. (It is hoped to eventually encompass all publishers under the agreement.)
In the meantime, what will the web interface mean to Librarians at the work-face? Given the increase of web-based information services within universities, the web interface should be more recognisable and 'friendly' to the novice user. Unfortunately, the increased ease of use might lead more users to search BIDS without knowing enough about search techniques and possibly becoming disheartened at their lack of results. Hopefully however, librarians will be able to concentrate less on teaching users how to use the interface and more on how to search effectively, with an overall result being an increased effective use of the service.