SilverPlatter Information Inc. History

Address:
100 River Ridge Drive
Norwood, Massachusetts 02062
U.S.A.

Telephone: (781) 769-2599
Fax: (781) 769-8763

Website:
Wholly Owned Subsidiary of SilverPlatter International, N.V.
Incorporated: 1983
Employees: 200
Sales: $60 million (1995 est.)
SICs: 5045 Computers & Computer Peripheral Equipment & Software; 7375 Information Retrieval Services; 7372 Prepackaged Software; 7379 Computer Related Services, Not Elsewhere Classified

Company Perspectives:

SilverPlatter provides electronic access to quality bibliographic and full-text databases using innovative technology via local, network and Internet access. SilverPlatter works collaboratively with publishers and data owners, library system vendors, and distributors worldwide to make available the widest range of quality databases and greatest choice of access. With these partners, SilverPlatter shares its ERL [Electronic Reference Library] Technology, so that it can be used as a common technological framework on which digital libraries can be created and interconnected to form a Worldwide Library.

Company History:

Although not well known to consumers, SilverPlatter Information Inc. is well known to librarians and information professionals for its electronic databases. Library Journal called SilverPlatter "the trailblazer of all library CD-ROM publishers." Commenting on the prevalence of CD-ROMs in libraries in the early 1990s, Wilson Library Bulletin noted, "One of the companies most responsible for this penetration into the library market is SilverPlatter, Inc., which (since 1983) has been at the forefront in the distribution of CD-ROM databases, the development of search software, and the creation of various CD-ROM networking and hardware solutions. SilverPlatter is also the first company to have developed library CD-ROM databases for both IBM PC and Macintosh computers." By the end of 1997 SilverPlatter offered more than 250 electronic databases from more than 120 data providers on CD-ROM or via the Internet.

Over the years, SilverPlatter has grown by working with three key types of business partners: distributors, information providers, and technology providers. While the company has offices around the world and more than 200 international distributors, it has focused on direct selling in the United States from its offices near Boston, Massachusetts. Key information providers have included library publishers such as H.W. Wilson Co., Gale Research, and R.R. Bowker Co.; scientific publishers such as Elsevier Science, Cambridge Scientific Abstracts, and Biological Abstracts (BIOSIS); medical information publishers such as the American Psychological Association and the U.S. National Library of Medicine; and the United Nations. Technology partners have contributed software and other enhancements as SilverPlatter made its databases available through a variety of gateways and user interfaces. In 1997, for example, SilverPlatter partnered with QuickDOC to allow users of its bibliographic databases to obtain the full content of journal articles via interlibrary loan.

Founded in 1983 by Bela Hatvany

SilverPlatter Information was formed in the United Kingdom in 1983 and incorporated in the United States the next year. It was the brainchild of Bela Hatvany, an information scientist who was working with a team of software engineers in London. He formed SilverPlatter Information to capitalize on the information storage capacities of CD-ROMs and to produce search software to make CD-ROMs more useful to researchers. Hatvany had first become involved with laser technology in 1972 when he worked on laser light pen barcode readers. CD-ROMs also utilize laser technology. In 1984 an important development in CD-ROM technology occurred when Philips and Sony introduced standardized CD-ROMs.

SilverPlatter was one of the first companies to create reference databases on CD-ROM. Its goal was to serve the library market, and the information in the databases would be supplied by well-known information providers. Throughout its history, SilverPlatter has been guided by Hatvany's vision of creating a global electronic library. His core strategy was "getting information to the public regardless of format," according to a company spokesperson quoted in Library Journal in 1994. The company has always served information professionals, students, and library patrons. When asked in 1994 if SilverPlatter intended to go into multimedia consumer products, Hatvany replied, "No. We really intend to stick to serving professionals and students with access to information containing answers, as well as educational materials for them."

Demonstrated Prototype Databases in 1985

In 1985 SilverPlatter demonstrated some prototype databases on CD-ROM at the American Library Association conference. It had already begun working on its proprietary search and retrieval software, SPIRS, which stands for SilverPlatter Information Retrieval Software. In 1986 it introduced its first CD-ROMs to the library world. They included ERIC, the premier national bibliographic database of educational literature; PsycLIT, a subset of the American Psychological Association's PsycINFO database of citations to book and periodical literature (PsycINFO would later be added to SilverPlatter's CD-ROM collection); and A-V Online, a comprehensive database of educational audiovisual materials compiled by the National Information Center for Educational Media.

The PC-based version of SPIRS, which used DOS, was introduced at the same time. SPIRS provided users with a common interface, regardless of what database was being searched. Over the next few years SilverPlatter continued to expand its collection of databases on CD-ROM, from 13 databases in 1987 to 20 in 1988. By 1988 the company was able to offer libraries a local area networking (LAN) solution to allow multiple terminals to access the CD-ROM databases. With the introduction of MacSPIRS for the Macintosh in 1989 and a collection of 30 databases, SilverPlatter was the dominant CD-ROM database supplier for libraries at the end of the decade.

Planning an Electronic Reference Library in 1990

SilverPlatter began planning the Electronic Reference Library (ERL) at the beginning of the 1990s. ERL was to be a type of library networking software that would allow libraries to create local area networks (LAN) and wide area networks (WAN). ERL was designed to create a "worldwide library" by linking library information systems around the world. The project was code-named Daffodil.

SilverPlatter offered 50 databases by 1990 and grew its collection to 100 databases by the end of 1991. Recognized as the dominant CD-ROM database vendor to libraries, the company and its founder received several awards in 1991. Bela Hatvany received the Entrepreneurial Excellence Award from the Optical Publishing Association; SilverPlatter's LAN solution received the Product of the Year Award from Mecklermedia; and ERIC on MacSpirs was honored in the Awards Portfolio from Media and Methods magazine.

Search Advisor Developed in 1993

SilverPlatter established its Product Design/Usability Group in mid-1993 to apply usability testing to developments already in progress. The company's Search Advisor project offered the first opportunity to incorporate usability testing from the beginning. As described by Bela Hatvany, "It is designed so intermediaries can incarnate their knowledge of searching into the interface, so they don't need to be at the elbow of the user." For example, Search Advisor would allow librarians to write customized search scripts to simplify searching for their novice users.

Until 1993, work on the Search Advisor had focused on SPIRS for DOS. Then, SilverPlatter decided that a Windows interface would be better. This decision coincided with the establishment of the Product Design/Usability Group, so prototypes of the Windows interface could be tested in a simulated searching environment. For the Search Advisor project, students at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts, were called on to help with the test. Usability testing was conducted in a controlled environment at the SilverPlatter offices as well as in an actual library setting. SilverPlatter claimed that such testing improved the confidence level not only of the developers, but also of potential customers. As one of the associate professors told CD-ROM Professional magazine, "When I know a software interface has been usability tested, I have a lot more confidence it's going to work."

In spite of its user-assisted development, Search Advisor was not completed for delivery to customers. In the process of developing it, SilverPlatter gained valuable experience in terms of establishing testing protocols and involving customers in the development process.

Introducing Electronic Reference Library (ERL) in 1994

After four years of development, SilverPlatter introduced the Electronic Reference Library (ERL), a client/server solution that addressed the need in libraries for wide area access. The ERL was designed to support multiple servers in large, high-access environments, such as research libraries. It allowed institutions to provide easy and powerful local and remote access to information across a range of networking environments. The ERL could be maintained and administered across multiple campuses and consortia. Its ERL ADMIN program enabled system administrators to set up and maintain user authorization accounts and monitor usage statistics.

Perhaps more significantly from the user's perspective, ERL Technology provided for simultaneous searching of all SilverPlatter databases available on the network, regardless of the database location. With one search, users could simultaneously search local CD-ROM drives, local ERL servers, and remote databases via the Internet. That eliminated the need to conduct the same search multiple times for databases loaded locally and remotely.

With ERL Technology, users could choose from the widest selection of server platforms, which eventually included Sun Solaris, SCO-UNIX, IBM AIX, Windows/NT, and LINUX. Databases would be searchable from a choice of WinSPIRS in French, German, Spanish, and English; MacSPIRS; PC-SPIRS, and UNIX-SPIRS interfaces. Users could also access SilverPlatter databases via the Internet using any SPIRS interface as well as the WebSPIRS gateway, introduced in 1995.

SilverPlatter's founder, Bela Hatvany, shared his vision of ERL with Searcher magazine in 1994. "ERL lends itself to building a world library of information that is accessible from many different hardware platforms, from many different software programs, that is accessible by users regardless of their locations, and that incorporates the expertise of search intermediaries."

In 1995 ERL was named Outstanding Product of the Year Award by Mecklermedia and its magazine, Computers in Libraries. By 1997 ERL was installed at 550 sites worldwide.

SilverPlatter also introduced WinSPIRS for Windows in 1994. Up to this time SPIRS had been available only in DOS software. WinSPIRS added many new features that made the search and retrieval software comparable to that found in its competitors' software, such as DIALOG OnDisc, CD Plus Ovid, and Online Computer System's Plus. These features included browsing field-specific indexes, posting information in the thesaurus, truncating with field specifications, and using multiple field qualifiers. When first introduced, WinSPIRS was tailored for only a few of the databases. SilverPlatter subsequently changed some aspects of its other databases to take advantage of WinSPIRS' capabilities.

In reviewing WinSPIRS for Online magazine in 1995, Peter Jasco noted, "WinSPIRS looks like a software designed from the ground up, religiously following the design principles of Windows applications. While some important browsing and search features are still not available, the user interface is a design masterpiece that is inviting to even the most computer-phobic users."

SilverPlatter and the Internet: 1995

SilverPlatter introduced an Internet subscription service to provide Internet access to SilverPlatter-hosted databases at the American Library Association conference in 1994. By 1995 it had introduced WebSPIRS for World Wide Web access to the databases. With Internet and World Wide Web use growing at tremendous speed, SilverPlatter decided to make its collection of databases available over the Internet. At the company's web site, initially called SilverPlatter World, documentation was provided on the company, its specific products and activities, and other features. Its Internet Index appeared as a web page that indexed information alphabetically and by subject.

Through ERL, SilverPlatter's entire collection of CD-ROM databases became available as a dial-up service on the Internet. Subscribers paid for Internet access in the same way they paid for CD-ROM access. They had to determine in advance which databases they wanted to access and pay subscription fees for. SilverPlatter offered a selection of search engines that would work with Windows, DOS, Macintosh, and Unix.

With use of the Internet and World Wide Web growing even faster in 1996 and 1997, SilverPlatter introduced Search by Search, a pay-as-you-go search service on the Internet. It was introduced in June 1997 at the American Library Association conference and made available to the marketplace by the fall of 1997. This research tool included more than 60 databases grouped into 13 subject clusters. It utilized SilverPlatter's Internet gateway, WebSPIRS. Customers would be registered and billed on a fee-per-use basis, with database usage tracked by the software. A company spokesperson said, "Pay-per-use pricing will allow libraries to expand collections by including access to titles not previously in their core collections."

Search by Search allowed searchers to either look at a single database or to select a subject and search across some or all of the databases. They could also command WebSPIRS to identify the databases that contained the search term. The system worked with either Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer. Search by Search was developed in conjunction with Imark Technologies, a Reston, Virginia, company, and utilized its proprietary NET-MAX software.

Although SilverPlatter was still perceived as a CD-ROM publisher, some 200 of its more than 250 database products were available over the Internet by the end of 1997.

SilverPlatter offered more than 250 databases by the end of 1997. Among the databases added during 1997 were Books in Print and other R.R. Bowker databases, including American Library Directory, Ulrich's International Periodical Directory, Library and Information Science Abstracts, and American Men and Women of Science. Marquis Who's Who, published by another Reed Elsevier company, National Register Publishing, was also added. The databases were made available on CD-ROM, hard disk, and via the Internet. Users had a choice of interfaces: Windows, DOS, Mac, UNIX, Z39.50, and web browser.

SilverPlatter also introduced DVD-ROM for selected databases. A company spokesperson said, "DVD will make larger databases more manageable. DVD has seven times the storage capacity of CD-ROM." The first database that was made available on DVD-ROM was The Union Catalogue of Belgian Research Libraries. It was introduced in December 1996 at Online Information '96 in London, England. By the February midwinter meeting of the American Library Association, SilverPlatter also had the MEDLINE Advanced database available on DVD-ROM. New DVD readers were introduced later in 1997 by Pioneer Electronics, who was one of SilverPlatter's partners in this project. DVD is an optical disc technology that enables data to be stored in two layers on each side of the disc. Each layer had almost four gigabytes of storage capacity. According to a company press release, DVD drives are also able to read traditional CD-ROMs and provide 30 times the capacity of standard CD-ROMs.

From its inception, SilverPlatter has always been at the forefront of the information explosion, finding ways to make information databases available to the widest possible range of users. It was one of the first to publish information on CD-ROM and to help libraries adapt that format to their needs. It worked with libraries to provide LAN and WAN solutions to data access. With the widespread use of the Internet and the World Wide Web, the company found ways to make its collection of databases available to users through the World Wide Web.

Further Reading:

  • Ensor, Pat, "SilverPlatter Embraces the Future: The Electronic Reference Library Becomes a Reality," Computers in Libraries, June 1994, p. 28.
  • Herther, Nancy K., "Dancing with Life: Talking About the Future of CD-ROM and SilverPlatter with Bela Hatvany," CD-ROM Professional, September 1993, p. 70.
  • Jasco, Peter, "WinSPIRS: Windows Software for SilverPlatter CD-ROMs," Online, January-February 1995, p. 74.
  • Kalseth, Karl, "Sharing Knowledge Is a Love Experience," FID News Bulletin, July-August 1997, p. 206.
  • Kesselman, Martin, "A Look at SilverPlatter, Inc.," Wilson Library Bulletin, September 1991, p. 80.
  • Morley, Elizabeth, "The SilverPlatter Experience," CD-ROM Professional, March 1995, p. 111.
  • Quint, Barbara E., "The Inevitable Internet Onslaught," Wilson Library Bulletin, May 1995, p. 64.
  • ------, "SilverPlatter Leadership: Interview with Bela Hatvany," Searcher, September 1994.
  • Rogers, Michael, "SilverPlatter Expands with New Services and Partnerships," Library Journal, December 1994, p. 29.
  • Samson, Patricia M., "SilverPlatter Appoints Brian Earle President and CEO," Business Wire, January 14, 1997.
  • "SilverPlatter Laser Discs Offer Alternative to Online," Library Journal, May 1, 1985, p. 22.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 23. St. James Press, 1998.

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