A colleague mentioned today that the front page of the venerable SPIRES database of High Energy Physics papers is now promoting the new Inspire interface which was announced a few years ago.
The website for the current beta phase of the project is http://inspirebeta.net.
It is unclear to me whether “Beta” is part of the site name, as suggested by the URL and the text on the INSPIRE page, or whether this is just the beta phase of the INSPIRE project as the SPIRES homepage seems to imply. It would certainly be an odd decision to use a different URL for the beta phase and force everyone to change bookmarks, references in blogs, literature etc., once the beta phase is over.
These are quick first impressions because I haven’t had much time to use the new service. First off it is fast. Very fast. So fast that when searching for my name INSPIRE claims that the “Search took 0.00 seconds”. It feels almost instantaneous. This might be because of a light load before the hordes using SPIRES are switched over. It is certainly an improvement on the interminable and often futile stretches of time needed with the SPIRES engine.
A quick glance at the new search features shows that “Google style” text searching is now accepted, so no longer will the archaic “fin a Name” syntax be necessary. However if you are wedded to the old SPIRES way of operating then this is also supported. There is good support for eprint search using the “arxiv:” operator, which lead me to the interesting discovery that the arxiv.org site parses addresses of the form “arxiv.org/abs/arXiv:XXXX.XXXX”. In other words, including “arXiv:” after the final slash still resolves to the correct paper even though the canonical way is “arxiv.org/abs/XXXX.XXXX”. (It also works with lower case “arxiv”.) This is quite a handy feature once you realise that the Bibtex output from INSPIRE now populates the eprint field with “arXiv:XXXX.XXXX” instead of just “XXXX.XXXX” as SPIRES does. There is also a regular expressions search mode which should be very useful for power users. Limited search inside articles seems to be supported as well.
The article page is vastly different to the old SPIRES listing. A new tabbed panel takes centre stage, offering “Information”, “Citations”, “References” and most intriguingly “Plots”. This last tab displays all the graphics from the arXiv version of the paper. (I think this is the case purely because the text on the homepage beside Eprint Number says “Note the plots”. And the copyright difficulties from harvesting journal figures.) The screengrabs in the gallery below are all of this paper which is linked to from the INSPIRE front page and will probably gain at least a few more citations as a result of the exposure.
It will take time to see whether this new update to SPIRES remains as fast as this early test promises. The original news stories also promised some social connectivity which seems to be currently lacking when compared to the arXiv’s array of social links. Overall this is a positive new beginning for HEP article and citation searching.
Update Dec 2011: The full Inspire website has been operational for a while now at its new address of http://inspirehep.net.