Take the struggle out of search
John Moore writes in Federal Computer Week:
Consistency is generally a good thing, but the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s website established a pattern for its search function no organization wants to own: It was consistently bad.
The agency used a combination of Web analytics and more detailed survey questions to zero in on the problem and discovered what was frustrating some site visitors: They were searching for information that couldn’t be found on the site. FSIS’ food safety purview covers meat, poultry and eggs, but some users were searching for information on vegetable and seafood recalls. Those alerts fall under the Food and Drug Administration.
The problem was solved here by directing visitors off-site to find the appropriate information.
Question: What do you do when visitors ask for information you don’t have?
Say they search for a game title that is by a competing manufacturer? Or a book title from another publisher? Or some other product by “the competition.”
Do you simply return a null result? (Tip for the day – when all else fails, return a useful result)
The article provides the details of and possible solutions to: (not unique to government, survey says half of all commercial businesses lack findability goals, 2008 but I would be willing to bet that hasn’t improved):
- Problem 1: Poor information architecture
- Problem 2: Not enough people or expertise
- Problem 3: Too many government websites
- Problem 4: Little or no SEO
Is this another data point in the continuing saga of why semantic solutions, including topic maps, face slow uptake?
That most organizations, commercial/governmental/non-profit/etc., lack basic information storage/retrieval skills. Have some very highly skilled people but not enough to do everything. Most of the rest are very willing but lack the skills to make a difference.
Which makes offering advanced information technologies like offering a grade school science fair participant use of the Large Hadron Collider in place of their lost radium sample for a Wilson cloud chamber. May some day be useful to them, but not today.
Suggestion: Use advanced techniques (I would inveigh for topic maps) to create “better” search capabilities for part of an agency website. Can’t really repair poor architecture remotely but probably can minimize its impact. Create a noticeably more useful search experience, such that even agency staff turn to it for some resources. Gives you a calling card with validation to back it up. (You probably also need to hire that recently retired section chief but doing a good job helps as well.)
PS: Just so you know, the first example of antimatter, a positive electron was discovered with a cloud chamber. Stray cosmic ray with enough power for the decay pattern to include a positron. Cloud chamber plans. The start of your education to be able to talk to the folks at the CERN in their own terms.