The popular life-sciences website BioMedNet is to close down for good. Observers say that the decision by scientific publisher Elsevier, which owns it, heralds a move away from general scientific websites, towards more specialized services.

Elsevier bought BioMedNet in 1997 from Vitek Tracz, an online-publishing pioneer who developed it for the London-based Current Science Group, which he chairs. BioMedNet evolved to bring together several Elsevier publications, such as the Trends series of journals, with conference reports, information on lab equipment, and access to the Medline database of life-sciences papers.

The website's 12 staff in London were told on 1 December that Elsevier was pulling the plug on BioMedNet, together with other general-purpose websites, including Chemweb and ElsevierEngineering.

“Having carefully reviewed the options available to us, we have decided that investments in the science and technology portals BioMedNet, Chemweb and will be withdrawn,” says a spokesperson for Elsevier.

When Elsevier bought BioMedNet, many experts anticipated that websites would soon generate substantial advertising revenue. “The web was hot,” recalls Tracz. “People were full of expectation.”

But David Worlock, chairman of London-based publishing consultancy EPS, says that Elsevier tested several different Internet business models, such as ScienceDirect, a website that provides access and search functions for Elsevier journals and reference works, but has no other content of its own.

Worlock says that most scientists now go straight to journal articles using sites such as ScienceDirect, rather than via portal services such as BioMedNet. Elsevier is also locked in tough subscription negotiations with university libraries (see Nature 426, 217; 2003), sparking suspicions that revenue fears may have influenced their decision, he says.

Elsevier is expected to focus its Internet efforts on sophisticated search tools to complement ScienceDirect. The company is said to be developing an application known as Scopus, which will allow users to probe the network of citations that link related papers. Such a service would be a rival for ISI Web of Science, a tool marketed by Philadelphia-based Thomson ISI.