Gone But Not Forgotten

Hello, you've landed on DATA eh? - Open Data Toronto's original blog space for data discussions. This is not an active blog at the moment but legacy posts are still here. Have a read ... you can still provide comments.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Search, Search, Where for art thou Search?

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.

We just discovered a blog that highlights the challenges we face in improving our website. Landscape Designer talks about his experiences in trying to get a simple question answered. Where would you find the bylaws that regulate pool construction online?

Where indeed? Clearly, based on the author's experience, it's not easily found on our website.  And, unless you can answer some questions first, the information may not be found at all.

I don't want to make excuses for what happened and I don't want to defend any bad customer service.  That's not my point here anyway.  I bring the article up because it demonstrates how user expectations may not match what we think are user expectations. The only way to resolve the issue is for us to better understand how users think, how they go about searching for information and, then, to actually do something about it. 

We are working on "search" right now
We are introducing content management tools that force our content providers to enter significant information bits (meta data) into page content so that our search tools will have more success spitting out results. Simply put, better info in = better results out.

So, change is in the air as we speak. Beyond that, creating opportunities to have inside stakeholders and outside stakeholders get together and examine user needs is important.  I often mention our become a tester form when commenting on other blogs.  It's an important item for us as we interact with you.  By filling out the form, you agree to be contacted by us and to participate in focus tests.  That's where we really get down and dirty on the issues.

We'll be dong testing into the New Year and, we hope, ongoing forever.  That's now a part of our shift toward user centric web.

Wouldn't it be great, when we talk by-laws as in this example, if we have some strong representation from users?  I said recently "users rule".  We are offering a chance for users to influence the debate. 

I don't want to over sell it, but, hey, we need users to respond.

Otherwise we may not be able to fully break out of the "we-think-we-know-what-you-want-but-are-biased-because-we-know-how-the-information-is-organized-and-you-don't" syndrome.

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Anonymous said...

Wow... thank you Keith for calling attention to my blog post. I found it very interesting that I could not get a simple answer from any of the city information available to me...and I live in the Toronto area. What made it a bit more discouraging to use the City's resources was the fact I had to leave messages...or try to leave messages in order to have someone contact me and I was not even sure if I was calling the right person.

My question about the City's pool setback bylaw was quickly answered only by speaking to a pool contractor based in Richmond Hill who I had happen to be working on a design for his client.

All I could find from the city was the form to fill out for submitting a pool plan for permit to the city in order to determine that all the setbacks have been met. As a landscape designer in the GTA, I think it would be very important to have all the bylaws that regard residential properties, easily referenced by doing simple keyword searches.

Instead, what comes up on the City site sometimes when using some keywords are amendments made to bylaws for individual cases...that would take a lot of time to go through and the education of a property lawyer to understand what is being said in those amendments. Even at that point it is a ruling made on an individual case by a committee of adjustments hearing...

...not very useful to the average person trying to find out how many feet he/she has to leave at his property edge...which would help him/her understand what size of a pool he/she can place in the backyard.

It is really good to know that there is a team of people like yourself working on these issues.

Thanks again,


Anonymous said...

So far I haven't found any problems in the search process (but I haven't searched for everything). But, since you are asking for feedback on the site, can I just say: I HATE that blue! it is very corporate and boring looking and looks like every website prototype in the universe. I don't see Toronto as blue, anyway.