Microsoft Academic (Search): a Phoenix arisen from the ashes?

After a whole string of publications on Google Scholar as a source of citation data, I have now written up what is the first systematic analysis of the new Microsoft Academic Search.

phoenix

Abstract

In comparison to the many dozens of articles reviewing and comparing (coverage of) the Web of Science, Scopus, and Google Scholar, the bibliometric research community has paid very little attention to Microsoft Academic Search (MAS). An important reason for the bibliometric community’s lack of enthusiasm might have been that MAS coverage was fairly limited, and that almost no new coverage had been added since 2012. Recently, however, Microsoft introduced a new service – Microsoft Academic – built on content that search engine Bing crawls from the web.

This article assesses Microsoft Academic coverage through a detailed comparison of the publication and citation record of a single academic for each the four main citation databases: Google Scholar, Microsoft Academic, the Web of Science, and Scopus. Overall, this first small-scale case study suggests that the new incarnation of Microsoft Academic presents us with an excellent alternative for citation analysis.

If our findings can be confirmed by larger-scale studies, Microsoft Academic might well turn out to combine the advantages of broader coverage, as displayed by Google Scholar, with the advantage of a more structured approach to data presentation, typical of Scopus and the Web of Science. If so, the new Microsoft Academic service would truly be a Phoenix arisen from the ashes.

Update 9 Nov 2016

We have now conducted a large-scale study on the same topic that might also be of interest:

Update 26 June 2017

A final article in the trilogy of papers on Microsoft Academic reports on its coverage one year after its re-launch.

  • Harzing, A.W.; Alakangas, S. (2017) Microsoft Academic is one year old: the Phoenix is ready to leave the nest, Scientometrics, vol. 112, no. 3, pp. 1887-1894. Available online... - Publisher's version (read for free)

Visual comparisons

The easiest way to summarise the article is probably through its two figures that summarise - for my own publication record - the publications and citations overlapping between the four databases as well as unique publications and citations in each of the four databases.

Publications: overlap between the four databases

In comparison to the Web of Science and Scopus, Microsoft Academic covers a far larger number of publications that are listed in Google Scholar and – importantly – covers all journal publications and books that are also covered in Google Scholar. This suggests that Microsoft Academic has excellent coverage of what are usually considered to be the most important academic outputs: journal articles and books.

Publications: unique coverage in the four databases

Microsoft Academic performs very well in our comparison of unique coverage in the four databases. On the one hand, it does not display any unique coverage vis-à-vis Google Scholar, whereas Google Scholar has 35 additional publications not covered by Microsoft Academic. On the other hand, it does display a substantial unique coverage vis-à-vis both the Web of Science (43 publications) and Scopus (30 publications). Unique coverage for the Web of Science and Scopus vis-à-vis Microsoft Academic is miniscule: one book chapter for the Web of Science and two book chapters for Scopus.

In addition to many non-journal publications, the unique coverage for Microsoft Academic includes 23 journal articles when compared to the Web of Science and 13 unique articles when compared to Scopus. It must be acknowledged that all but one of the relevant journals are now covered in both the Web of Science and Scopus, thus indicating that they were by no means obscure journals. Hence, for very recent journal publications there might be little, if any, difference between the coverage of Google Scholar, Microsoft Academic, the Web of Science and Scopus. This is of little solace, however, for academics with (an interest in) publications that stretch back in time. In those situations only Google Scholar and Microsoft Academic will provide sufficient coverage.

Citations: overlap between the four databases

Microsoft Academic performs very well in terms of citation counts for articles that overlap with other databases. It outperforms the Web of Science for nearly all articles and is an equal to Scopus. Only Google Scholar still outperforms Microsoft Academic in this respect.

Citations: unique coverage in the four databases

Microsoft Academic performs very well in our comparison of unique citations in the four databases. On the one hand, it does not display any unique citations vis-à-vis Google Scholar, whereas Google Scholar has 1310 additional citations not covered by Microsoft Academic. On the other hand, it does display a substantial number of unique citations vis-à-vis both the Web of Science (1210 citations) and Scopus (596 citations). Unique citations for the Web of Science and Scopus are either non-existent (Web of Science) or relatively modest (Scopus).

Most of the unique citations in Microsoft Academic relate to journal articles and it must be acknowledged that unique citations are concentrated in a fairly small number of unique publications. However, the conclusion that Microsoft Academic performs well in comparison to the Web of Science and Scopus in citation coverage as well as publication coverage is inescapable.

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