How user intelligence is improving PubMed


PubMed is a widely used search engine for biomedical literature. It is developed and maintained by the US National Library of Medicine/National Center for Biotechnology Information and is visited daily by millions of users around the world. For decades, PubMed has used advanced artificial intelligence technologies that extract patterns of collective user activity, such as machine learning and natural language processing, to inform the algorithmic changes that ultimately improve a user's search experience. Although these efforts have led to objective improvements in search quality, the technical underpinnings remain largely invisible and go largely unnoticed by most users. Here we describe how these 'under-the-hood' techniques work within PubMed and report how their effectiveness and usage is assessed in real-world scenarios. In doing so, we hope to increase the transparency of the PubMed system and enable users to make more effective use of the search engine. We also identify open challenges and new opportunities for computational researchers to explore the potential of future improvements.

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Figure 1: Information search and data analytics in PubMed.
Figure 2: Navigational and informational searches in PubMed.
Figure 3: The overall workflow for PubMed's Best Match search using machine learning.
Figure 4: Implementations of Best Match and of Related Articles in PubMed.
Figure 5: Factors that affect average CTRs.


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The authors would like to thank K. Canese, R. Ismagilov, G. Starchenko, E. Kireev, J. Wilbur, D. Comeau, S. Kim, W. Kim, L. Yeganova, V. Miller, M. Osipov, R. Bryzgunov, I. Radetska, A. Gindulyte, M. Latterner, the NLM/NCBI leadership, and the many NCBI and NLM Library Operations staff working on and contributing to PubMed. This research was supported by the NIH Intramural Research Program, National Library of Medicine.

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Correspondence to Zhiyong Lu.

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Fiorini, N., Leaman, R., Lipman, D. et al. How user intelligence is improving PubMed. Nat Biotechnol 36, 937–945 (2018).

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