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Thinking out of the Meta-Box, Part 2

Did you ever get a bad feeling you’d made a mistake? Yesterday’s post about search capabilities on MPOW was intended to be posted tomorrow or Friday, after usability testing ended. I post-dated the entry but failed to select “Future” for publishing. I even woke up today thinking I should take out some of the background. So when I woke up to see someone had already responded to it… oy vey! I’m leaving the post as-is, not because I don’t feel free to change my own posts (as long as I let you know when I’ve made substantive changes), but because it’s a bit about MPOW you might like to know.

So “Part 2” of this thread is really a teaser, because I’m not going to say any more today–well, not much, anyway.

I appreciate Frances’ comment that MPOW serves as a respository of Web goodness. This is a theme that has come up over and over again as we talk to users; the quality of our content is really what separates us from the hoi polloi. Our new tagline, rolling out with the new site, will be “Websites you can trust.” Of course, that’s just our trusty old tagline, “Information You Can Trust,” but slimmer (and with firmer thighs). Our new name will also be very much the same, but leaner, with less cellulite.

However, I paused over this comment from Frances: “But if they are going to get the gold out of this wonderful resource, they have to adapt their search techniques to suit.” One by one, in a classroom, under a teacher or librarian’s instruction, users will adapt their behavior. Some of them will continue to adapt their behavior to be able to reap the benefits of MPOW, which as Frances notes are legion. (That’s because our folks are the best librarians on the planet. If Google had a soul and a brain, it would look like the MPOW team. Even a dumb, slow boss like me knows to hire the best and let them do their thing.)

Users don’t “have” to use MPOW, and that’s crucial to understanding our dilemma. Though quite a few trickle through library instruction classes, many, many more users come to MPOW without benefit of classroom instruction. They do not read the help screens. (Most help screens could be written in Klingon, for all they get used. Help screens, from what I can see, tend to serve power-users looking to refine skills.) Users also come to MPOW, as I have said before, with perfectly reasonable expectations about search developed “out there,” in Googleland. (MPOW provides websites. Google provides websites. MPOW search should be like Google search.)

The user is not broken, and with respect to search engines for Websites, the user has options. They arrive at MPOW, search once, get frustrated, and leave. Even many of the people trained in Frances’ class are not going to return to MPOW after class ends. Yes, MPOW is useful; yes, it is a great model of quality information (and serving as a model of quality content is a great role we play for Libraryland). But it doesn’t matter how good or useful MPOW is if users get frustrated and go elsewhere. They don’t have a choice with the book catalog–it’s a monopoly point of access to information they need–but they do have a choice on the Web. It’s a choice with significant trade-offs; some users know that and put up with MPOW’s limitations, but many others are willing to trade crud for ease of use.

In Part 3, to be posted tomorrow (Thursday), I’ll talk more about the gold/crud dilemma, the value of metadata, and the value of full-text indexing. If the post isn’t too long at that point, I’ll talk about the solution that has been pinging the back of my brain for a while.

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