Opportunities for Alternative Suppliers of Secondary Chemical Information

August 21, 2006

Now, with all that has gone before as background, what are the opportunities for alternative suppliers of secondary chemical information? Given that there is a single worldwide service that dominates the scene, that it is capable of operating independently, without cooperative links internationally, and that it has recently become an aggressive on-line marketer of chemical information, a competitor to all other on-line chemical information services, what opportunities remain? The answer is rather bleak. Clearly, no one, with the possible exception of the Russians, can afford to abstract and index the world's chemical literature anew. Therefore, there are only two choices - operate under license from CAS, which itself intends to operate a 'superior' competing service, or develop an information system that does not depend on the files of CAS. This is not easy given the nature of chemical information and the files of CAS. ... Is this a field where we do not need the pressure of competition to ensure innovation and reasonably priced services? Only time will tell.

Peter F. Urbach J. Chem. Inf. Comput. Sci. 1984, 24, 1-3

At the start of the twentieth century, Chemical Abstracts Service was itself an upstart in a field dominated by large players, mainly in Europe. Mr. Urbach cites four factors that changed all of that:

  1. The practical importance of chemical information relative to other scientific fields gave it an edge in competing for federal funds.
  2. The U.S. National Science Foundation contributed 30 million dollars, which was matched by CAS, for the development of what would become the system we know today.
  3. English gained acceptance as the universal language of science.
  4. CAS management pursued a strategy emphasizing product quality and comprehensiveness.

Given that no technological monopoly lasts forever, what kinds of technologies are most likely to displace CAS and what do they look like today?