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Monday, October 22, 2007

Web of Science, Don't Lead Us Astray

Check out the Web of Science homepage, and behold. A clear and stark interface, perfectly fit for its purpose: serving science. The upper half op the page looks as follows.

There's the nice and simple logo, some link to information for new users, and a very limited number of buttons (search options) —as should, in order to be user-friendly.
Yep, it shows that people spent time tailoring the interface down to the functional and elegant minimum they present us here. Mere utopia, when we browse from top to bottom. That is, until we arrive at the Quick search box.

What does Quick search mean? In a time where the majority of search box entries is tunneled through Google, we expect to get mostly the same as we get in Google: any result that contains the word we entered. We expect a bunch of hits, that might not be sorted in the most relevant order, but do indeed share this one feature: they contain the word we entered. This is what we expect, regardless of our opinion on Google, because search boxes in the noughties simply work this way, and this modus operandi has become second nature to the modal (web page) visitor.

And so I did: I entered my name, clicked the SEARCH button and beheld. This is what I was told.

What bad news! I am indeed searching for myself as an author, and although I'm quite sure I managed to get some articles published during my three years of research, my search finds no records. My oh my, did I then not publish after all?

I return to the home page and suddenly, it dawns on me: I was indeed warned. I should have known better, of course, since the little box at the home page,

warned me all the way. If you are looking for an author, use general search. And so I did, and found the deed done.

But that doesn't solve their problem. Two questions.
  • Why does WOS provide a Quick Search box, that doesn't comply with any human intuition, and dwells on its very home page?
  • What purpose does the Quick Search function serve?
I'm not really sure about the answer to the first question, but it makes me wonder.
  • Does WOS try to make their interface look user-friendly, without providing the functionality? That would be really cheap.
  • Or, alternatively, are they not aware that web intuition these days dictates that Quick Search always provides more, and never less results then a General Search (for the same keyword)? That would surprise me.
  • Or are they just too lazy to adapt their interface to meet nowadays standards? That would be cheap again.

As for the second question, I'm not sure about the answer either. The welcome text in the search box states "Enter a Topic", so you'd figure that this Quick Search is intended to browse through topics. But the search hint on the WOS home page persistently counters this intuition, as it states: Looking for a topic [...]? Use General Search.

This leaves me puzzled, I assure you. Dozens of people, mostly scientists, are consulting WOS every day. Dozens of scientists, publishing on a variety of subjects that combine common sense and advanced science, are making the same useless loop as the one I describe here, this very moment.

Maybe there is some kind of humor in this, but I can't seem to grab it. Can anyone explain?

1 comment:

Wouter7 ¶ said...

Massey University Library reports that Web of Science goes with Google. So they already have the engine inside!

This changes the story, makes the case somewhat better. Al they need to do is to give up the restrictions they put on the search results (especially the one that eliminates the author matches), to become —imho— user-friendly.