Venting About Bad Reference Interfaces
Posted: 14 September 2012 03:39 AM   [ Ignore ]
Total Posts:  5630
Joined  2007-01-03

Oxford University Press changed the way their Oxford Reference Shelf works a few days ago. Now, instead of searching a particular work, it gives you the results from all the works.

I want to know who thought this would be a good idea. Whoever it was should be fired and blacklisted so they are never hired again for any job involving access to reference materials. (This is hyperbole. I’m venting.)

Yes, there are probably times when it is useful to search across works ranging from philosophy to politics to linguistics to performing arts to media studies. But when I go to the page for Green’s Dictionary of Slang and do a search, I expect to get results from that work, not from everything in OUP’s collection. If I’m looking up “chad” in Green’s, it’s a pretty good bet that I don’t want any of the hundreds of entries in the various OUP reference works that are about the country. Global search should not be the default. (And as far as I can tell, there is no way to limit your search to one work under the current architecture.)

Fortunately, this is part of a rollout of a new interface, which you can get to by clicking a preview link. The new interface does let you search an individual reference work. So it looks like the bulk of the annoyance is transitory, only until the new system is launched in a week and I can reset all my bookmarks to point to the search options I want.

But still, it makes one wonder what they were thinking; if they were thinking at all. More is not always better, especially in the internet world of information overload.

Compare this to the new feature rolled out by Google Plus, which allows you to manually set the priorities of what posts appear in your feed. So I can set it so that all of the posts from my “Family” and “Friends” appear in my feed, but none from the various “Language” contacts who are in my circle. So now, all those posts by Arnold Zwicky don’t obscure the stuff from my friends, which is usually what I want to see when I do a quick check of Google Plus. (I like Arnold’s posts, and I don’t want them to go away. But it’s much easier to file them away in a separate “Language” feed which I can check every day or two.) The point is that the users often have a far better understanding of what they want to see than any web site designer or automated algorithm does. Give them the tools to customize the search in the manner that bests suits their needs.