This review reports on the current state and the potential of tools and systems designed to aid online searching, referred to here as online searching aids. Intermediary mechanisms are examined in terms of the two stage model, i.e. end‐user, intermediary, ‘raw database’, and different forms of user — system interaction are discussed. The evolution of the terminology of online searching aids is presented with special emphasis on the expert/non‐expert division. Terms defined include gateways, front‐end systems, intermediary systems and post‐processing. The alternative configurations that such systems can have and the approaches to the design of the user interface are discussed. The review then analyses the functions of online searching aids, i.e. logon procedures, access to hosts, help features, search formulation, query reformulation, database selection, uploading, downloading and post‐processing. Costs are then briefly examined. The review concludes by looking at future trends following recent developments in computer science and elsewhere. Distributed expert based information systems (debis), the standard generalised mark‐up language (SGML), the client‐server model, object‐orientation and parallel processing are expected to influence, if they have not done so already, the design and implementation of future online searching aids.
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