Finding stuff online

One of the things professional bodies do is provide resources to help their members do their jobs better. And many professional bodies produce fantastic resources, but then get frustrated because they are not used by their members. But having had a look at some websites, I am not surprised that resources are under-used – they are just so difficult to find! What is the point of having wonderful and useful resources if you don’t organise them in ways that make it easy for members to locate? Professional bodies need to apply the principles of information service management to their resources. And one aspect of this relates to how people find stuff online. Basically they do so in three different ways: by browsing and searching, and through their networks:

  • Browsing: An individual may have a general idea of the topic or activity they are interested in and surf sites that might provide some information on the topic or activity.  They may or may not use a search engine to do this.
  • Searching: An individual may have a specific resource or activity they are looking for. They will use a search engine, either a site-specific one or general one like Google, to locate the information.
  • Networks:  An individual may belong to a community, such as Linked In or Twitter, whose members suggest useful articles, tools and activities. These online networks are now very important.

 The implications are that organisations need:

  • To structure their websites so users can browse for resources easily with or without using a search engine. Using a hierarchy of topics should help the user filter the items.
  • To have search engines that enable users to browse as well as search for specific resources.
  • A standard system for categorising resources, in other words a taxonomy. This needs to be used organisation-wide. And whilst categorising resources seems time-consuming, it is essential. The taxonomy should address the type of resource it is (eg. podcast, audio-visual content or document) and the topic (or however, you define the coverage). Whilst an item may cover a range of topics, limit the number, perhaps to five.
  • To structure content so that users can ‘push’ items to their networks easily. In addition, the content itself needs to be easily accessible by those in the network. So, the number of clicks that users have to make to get to the content should be minimised.

These are just some of my ideas on helping organisations get their resources found. If you have any other ideas do post them!


About Nina F Collins

Educator with an interest in adult learning, the workplace and advanced learning technologies.
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2 Responses to Finding stuff online

  1. Good advice, Nina! Two things:
    1. many professional bodies do not necessarily have expertise in this field and can find it hard to locate. So, those who do understand these ideas, go forth and provide a service to this group of potential clients! And, web designers: get yourselves some contacts who can provide these services to your clients if you yourself can’t!
    2. while these principles are completely correct, it is sometimes difficult to apply them. One person’s easy browsing is another person’s impenetrable labyrinth!

  2. I agree with your second point, people categorise stuff in different ways so creating a taxonomy is difficult. Also, creating a taxonomy and search facilities is only part of the solution in getting people to use your resources. You are likely to need an induction programme for new users and a communications plan to encourage continued use of your service. And I think a helpline in lieu of a librarian is also important.

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