To Questia or Not to Questia, That Is the Question

By Helfer, Doris Small | Searcher, April 2001 | Go to article overview

To Questia or Not to Questia, That Is the Question


Helfer, Doris Small, Searcher


Questia Media Inc. [hhtp://www.questia.com/] has a newly launched service claiming to constitute "a scholarly collection with the full text of thousands of books and, coming soon, journal articles. A broad range of tools allow hyperlinking from source to source, powerful searching, automatic creation of footnotes and bibliographies, plus highlighter markup and margin note capabilities."

Troy Williams founded Questia in 1998 after completing Harvard Law School. The idea evolved from Troy's cumbersome experiences researching articles for the Harvard Law Review. Questia employs over 280 people in three offices. With headquarters in Houston, Texas, Questia also has small offices in Los Angeles and New York. The company has raised over $135 million to date in venture capital to launch this service. Funds come from private individuals, TA Associates of Boston, Oppenheimer's Emerging Technology and Aggressive Growth Funds, Bulldog Capital Management, and Palmetto Partners. Questia targets its service to undergraduate college students in the United States based on strong market research.

Questia claims to be "the first online subscription-based research service that provides undergraduate college students unlimited access to the full text of tens of thousands of scholarly liberal arts books and journals. A wide range of tools are available to help students write and research better papers, faster and more efficiently. The research tools allow students to quickly locate the most relevant information on their topics, automatically cite sources, and instantly format bibliographies. With its holistic research environment, Questia helps students perform more thorough academic research and write better papers."

Questia says its full-text collection is "searchable byword, phrase, or concept." The service claims materials are "scholarly, high-quality books and journal articles in the liberal arts." Designed for simultaneous access by an unlimited number of users at any given time, the database has a unique feature I've not yet seen on any other online database. It enables the users to mark up, highlight, and make annotated notes about the text as well as the ability to automatically generate footnotes and bibliographies in a variety of different, widely accepted style manual formats. Questia provides hyperlinking of footnotes and bibliographies across titles for seamless access to numerous sources. Like most Web services, it is designed for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week access. Questia also offers state-of-the-art customer service.

As of January 22, 2001, Questia's official site launch date, it claimed to carry more than 30,000 titles in the humanities and social sciences disciplines, with a growth to over 50,000 titles planned by the end of February. The company plans to further expand the service to about 250,000 titles by 2003. Encouraged by the tenfold increase in traffic since launching, Questia likes to point out that it is already larger than 80 percent of all academic libraries in the U.S. Whether the 250,000 titles Questia plans to gather will cap its growth, the company has not yet decided. Questia's digitization partner is Innodata, which uses OCR (optical character recognition) to check, tag, and sample data for accuracy.

No matter what size the Questia database ultimately reaches, my concern for students using the service is that many may choose to use and pay for the Questia service without realizing that their academic library may already offer the materials they need and want for free. Having said that, I must admit that costs for Questia are not at all unacceptable. Questia offers a variety of subscription options so users can choose the plan that fits their needs and budget. The current subscription lengths and prices are as follows: monthly recurring subscription at $19.95, 48-hour at $14.95, annual at $149.95. Questia offers a 48-hour free trial to visitors to its site, so you can test the full capabilities of the Questia service. …

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To Questia or Not to Questia, That Is the Question
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