Anurag Acharya on Google Scholar

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Seed magazine interviews co-founder Anurag Acharya.


"NYAS: Did your interest in creating Google Scholar stem from a need you saw in your own academic experience?

Acharya: It was an experience I had as an undergraduate back in India. I grew up on the Indian Institute of Technology campus in Kharagpur. My uncle was a faculty member, and doing research was what the cool people did, at least in my head. I thought you did some work and you wrote it up and you sent it for publication, because that’s what people do. You go to the library, you look up citations, you follow references, and you learn what you can. If the papers don’t exist in your library, you write letters to people—this is 1985—and some fraction of them send you back their reprints.

You send your own paper out for publication, and the reviews from the U.S. come back saying, “This is all very smart stuff, but you’re making this key assumption that is four years out of date.” So you’ve gone through all this effort and ultimately what you have done is not relevant because you didn’t know what was already being done. With Google Scholar, first and foremost we make it possible for you to find the literature. Whether you can read it is a more complicated problem, but if you don’t know it exists, you have no hope.

NYAS: Has it been difficult to persuade publishers to permit you to index their paid-subscription content?

Acharya: Oh, yes. I started talking to publishers in 2001. We’re now indexing all the major publications, publishers, and societies, but it was a slow process. Initially the scholarly publishers didn’t believe that scholars used a lowly thing like a search engine. I’m serious. I had to convince people that researchers do use this. It was a mindset that search engines are used for casual things and not for real research. The attitudes really have changed.

NYAS: If you could have some problem solved immediately, what would that be?

Acharya: If I had one silver bullet I would apply it to translation. We index papers in every language that has any significant number of papers. We have a feature that allows you to find related articles, and relatedness can jump across language. All of this is trying to facilitate discovery. A Google group has been working on a translation feature for many years now. There are groups that are using it to point to open-access journals and outside the English-speaking countries to make it possible for people to read papers that are not originally in English. Translation could open up the space to a population that previously we have not had an opportunity to reach." (