Roger Johansson asks: does advanced search sound too advanced?
This got me to thinking and before I knew it I was thinking this deserves a bit more than a reply on his site so instead I'm ranting here at you, bear with me.
I work in a library and as such deal a lot with librarians who think advanced search is the bee's knees, even if they don't use it themselves for 90% of the time when dealing with every day requests and they're using Google or Lexis Nexis or Science Direct or whatnot. The term is so wide-spread that changing it on individual websites make little sense. I agree that offering an advanced form on a first page is of little use, but I do take exception to the statement brought up in one of the comments that "Google has spoiled us
They haven't, they've just shown us that a very basic, simple search form can perform admirably well given the right backend. If only suppliers of databases would have taken that message to heart a year or 6 ago I wouldn't have to currently struggle so hard to get our library to implement a federated search
So the suppliers of deep knowledge haven't taken this message to heart yet. Instead we're stuck with a plethora of idiotic database suppliers who ask thousands of euros each year (each, and we have about 20 or 30 of those) for the material they hold in their databases. All of these come with an advanced search form as the default.
Why? Is this because these search-tools are requested by end-users? Students? Faculty? No!
These tools are highly regarded by librarians. People who cringe when they see someone use a simple search form. These librarians are the ones making the decision to purchase access to a database, they are the ones that should be educated, they are the ones that should be told to just open their eyes. To be fair, the younger generation of librarians is moving along the path where they can see that advanced search forms are a hindrance and not the be-all end-all but there's an uphill struggle going on in library land every single day to convince people that the way normal people search is the one our tools should be designed for. Especially when a single database can cost an educational institution as much as 1 euro per student per year (whether these individuals use the database or not!).
This may not sound like much but in education money is tight and if you have 10 databases that each cost a euro a year per student*
you've just added a large overhead cost to the overall running of your institution. Remember: these databases are not searchable by Google, they are password or IP adress restricted. Some require licensing costs on individual document retrieval, for most the fee is based on the number of users a library has.
*) For reference our institution has about 35.000 students and 500 faculty.
It may seem like I'm laying the blame here on librarians. To be fair they are to blame for much of this, but I also blame the vendors. If you have the manpower to build a database that holds twenty million highly annotated and enriched records you have the manpower to build a simple search solution that works
, you also have the manpower to educate your byers of the goodness that is your simple form. Database vendors are all too happy to sit back and do whatever makes to most money, they are not innovative, they are reactive (not pro-active) and they will not embrace new opportunities or technologies, they will not educate librarians on how simple their interface could
In recent years things have gotten so bad that a lot of us have decided that it might be better not to get new databases because they will not be utilised as much as we'd like for them to be cost-effective. So most libraries are looking at federated search technologies. Which is a fancy way of saying we're looking for a search engine that will search across multiple (specific, high value) databases using a simple search form (and an advanced one, of course, but that should be an option
). To be fair, even if database suppliers took a page from the dominance of Google (Google commands something like 90% of the general web search market in europe) we might still be looking at a federated search engine, but the way things are now, with each database having it's own site-specific form, with it's own syntax for boolean operators, keyword options, searchable fields, quirks, obscenely ridiculous specific queries, we are forced to implement this. We cannot continue to expose our students, who have not completed a 4 year graduate course in information retrieval to the backwardness of database vendors.
This was apparent 10 years ago and as the costs of databases go up, even in the face (or maybe because) of consortia that buy in large-scale access for multiple educational institutions at once, and the demands of small groups for highly selective databases go up, we cannot ignore the fallacies of our current systems. Which is good news for vendors like ExLibris, Webfeat, Aquabrowser (popular in Dutch public libraries, built on Webfeat I understand) and Infor, who apear to be the big players in Holland.
Anyway, we're currently looking at getting one of these in our library and are talking with other higher education institutions about their choices/considerations in this respect. I'm hoping to cut to the chase some time soon and end the suffering our users have been going through, and really, you have no idea what a suffering this is if all you do is search on the web for information about your interests/hobbies and do not have to put up with the horrible obscure interfaces you have to endure if you're looking for scientifically valid information that goes deeper than a press release.
So, to get back to the question "does advanced search sound too advanced?" I'd answer with a resounding NO.
Advanced search is so ingrained in our thinking about the web that to replace it is silly. We might as well create an online commerce site that doesn't use the "shopping basket" metaphor Amazon so successfully popularised. To suddenly call it something else would be self-defeating. Call it advanced search by all means, but do not present it to the user first thing. Hide it in the search results, give it another tab for all I care but do make it available, it's a very useful tool and shouldn't be hidden too much. (Librarians can teach you how to get the most out of advanced search tools and are for the most part happy to do this.) But give users the option to start simple. This is what they expect. This is what they want. This is what they deserve!
They are, after all, paying our salaries.