Google Scholar linking preferences embedded in URL?

So Google Scholar lets institutions register their OpenURL link resolver details. And this lets those institutions show up in the Google Scholar preferences. And if a user chooses that institution from the preferences, then they’ll get links to that institutions link resolver on most Google Scholar hits. Which is great, among other reasons for integrating institutional access and delivery options into the excellent Scholar search.

However, many developers have wanted to find a way to set preferences for users. Whether actually setting persistent preferences in a cookie, or instead just embedding in a link to Google Scholar to set them for the current search — seems better than having to give users multi-step instructions, which many users will never see or read, for setting their own preferences.

I had never seen anyone figure out a good way to do that before. I had noticed some libraries using a kind of hacky way (I think LibX sometimes uses this hacky way too) — and I had noticed even that hacky way had stopped working last time I checked, as Google had changed their interface in some way that broke the hacky screen-scrapey way that was too sensitive to implementation details.

However, Jim Pitman just brought to my attention that some Sakai installations seem to be using a method of specifying an openURL base URL in a ‘deep link’ to Google Scholar. Check this out:

That linking specification for including an “import to bspace” link does seem to be “sticky”, if you change your search criteria, you still get the link, by those extra URL parameters staying with you. (They are not set in cookies, if you start over with a fresh URL, you lose the link).

I had no idea that was possible, and don’t entirely understand how it works.  I see the linkurl_id and linkurl_base parameters, but specifying your own arbitrary values there doesn’t seem to work. And the actual link text, in this case “import into bspace” isn’t specified there — so it would seem to be referencing some registration on file with Google Scholar already. My institution has a registration on file for ordinary Google Scholar preferences, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to use it for this kind of ‘deep link’, I don’t know what the “linkurl_id’ would be. I am not sure if you instead need some kind of special relationship/arrangement with Google Scholar.

Anyone seen this before? Anyone know anything about it?  Anyone have any ideas for where to go to get more information? Google ‘support’ is generally not so much.  Jim Pitman says this is the project page where the Sakai plugin that provides this Google Scholar connectivity is found, but that emails to the contact addresses there have gone unanswered.

Seems like a feature a lot of people would be interested in using, if we could figure out how it can be used.

Update Feb 2 2011

Jon Dunn, who was involved in the Sakai/Scholar plugin, helpfully writes:

Hi Jonathan,

We (IU and Michigan) worked directly with Google back in 2007 to accomplish this. Their requirement at the time was that, for the callback, we take exactly the same parameter format that they pass to RefWorks. The linkurl_id value that we pass to Google Scholar is used to look up the correct name (e.g. bSpace, Oncourse, CTools, etc.) of the institution’s Sakai instance in a registry hosted at so that the correct label can be displayed for “Import into ____”.

I think that Google has set up similar linkages with Blackboard and perhaps some other CMSes. I don’t know how open they are to doing this in general, though. The people we worked with were [omitted] on the Google Scholar team, but the best way to contact them may be through the general scholar-library mailbox.

This is interesting, but I’m thinking, geez, I don’t need any setup as complicated as that. All I need is the exact same institutional link registration that Google already has (no need for a seperate registry), but the ability to pass in an ID in the URL refering to that registration, the way they can with their “seperate” registries.

That feature would make a lot of sense, and is consistent with what Google is already doing, but more sensible — but I’m not sure there’s any way Google is going to develop any new features for Scholar to serve libraries, no matter how small. My impression in the past has been that there is essentially no development work going on on Scholar right now. So when I’ve tried to communicate these thigns with Google contacts before, it takes a lot of back and forth to even succesfully explain what I’m talking about, and then they say “Okay, we’re probably not going to do that.”  Guess it doesn’t hurt to email that email address, which I’ll do when I have some time for some back-and-forth. But if anyone else wants to, feel free!

10 thoughts on “Google Scholar linking preferences embedded in URL?

  1. Way back in the way back, I worked on a Sakai plugin called Sakaibrary / Citation Helper ( wherein we set up exactly this sort of thing for callbacks from Google Scholar into Sakai; I assume that’s what you’re seeing.

    There was a registry of URLs to text for things like “import into bspace” that they just picked up via sftp every once in a while; I don’t know what the mechanism is now, and don’t know how aggressively people are still working in this, if at all, since the grant ran out.

    It looks like there’s at least been some activity toward using it with Sakai 3.0

  2. Hmm, thanks Bill. I think that is indeed the thing. So that seems to confirm that one can’t simply do this with any Google Scholar registration, Sakai has a special relationship with Scholar where they set up certain URLs as acceptable or something. Maybe.

    But I really want to do this too. So I guess i”ve got to convince Google to make a relationship with me too or something.

    Do you have any contacts at either Sakai or Google I could contact for more info on this stuff or to start building a relationship? So far all the emails I’ve tried to send to various likely parties, I’ve never heard back from. Haven’t tried finding and emailing the Sakai dev list (which I assume exists somewhere?). Any advice?

    It’s a shame that, apparently, Sakai built some special relationship with Google rather than advocating for a general purpose feature that anyone could use. If that is indeed what happened. But whatever happened, I really want to do what Sakai is doing too, and at the moment can’t figure out how, and would really like to talk to those in the know.

  3. It does seem as if Google has made a change to the way these settings work since the last time I looked. As far as I can tell, they are now using an institution id number to identify which institution to show links for. This appears to work:
    Link to search box:

    Link to search results:

    And the same format works to switch to a different institution:

    You can get the ‘inst’ value for any particular institution by doing a view source on the Scholar Preferences page after searching for your library in the library search box on the preferences page.

    This seems to work for me, but I did notice a couple of odd things when I already had cookies set with other preferences, so YMMV.

  4. Update with more info from Sakai developer Jon Dunn in post body. [comment added so people subscribing to comments will be notified of new content]

  5. Much thanks for this. I’ve passed your post on to colleagues. Just a quick question: we are an institution with Sakai and with the Google piece installed within it. Does that allow us any additional functionality that we can take outside of the Sakai environment?

  6. Huh, Paul’s solution does in fact seem to work. Last time I tried, a couple years ago, I could not make something like that work, but it does appear to be working, they seem to have added the ability to include your institution ID in a query param and have it be ‘sticky’ for that session. Wow, this is awfully useful if it works reliably, and way better than the hacky way (which stopped working some time ago) which I saw some software (such as at one point LibX) doing, out of lack of alternative.

    If anyone else has any experiences to report with Paul’s method working or not, please do share.

    I’m curious to try and see if two different institutional IDs can be included to get both (for instance WorldCat and your local institution).

    If anyone can provide clear instructions for how to discover the proper institution ID, that would be useful too. I think I know, but have to mess around with it.

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