Monday, May 21, 2007

Drinking the AquaBrowser Kool-Aid

Hooper: [trying to get the fishing line secure] It may be a marlin or a stingray... but it's definitely a game fish.
[Hooper pulls as the lines snaps and he crashes his head into the wall]
Quint: [picking up the line] Gamin' fish, eh? Marlin? Stingray? Bit through this piano wire? Don't you tell me my business again! You get back on the bridge...
Hooper: Quint, that doesn't prove a damn thing!
Quint: Well, it proves one thing, Mr. Hooper. It proves that you wealthy college boys don't have the education enough to admit when you're wrong.

OK, I've been dissing TLC's AquaBrowser Visual Search interface for a long time. I never liked the Discover "word cloud" and I still don't. First, we're asking our patrons to learn yet another way to search, when research shows that patrons want searching to be as simple as using Google or Amazon. TLC promotes Aqua as a tool for exploring, since it brings up other terms related to your search. It does do that, but bizarre terms tag along. For example, if you search for "vegetarian cooking," it brings up "meat." When I searched for "A Good Dog the Story of Orson," the book was first on the results list but the word cloud gave me such unhelpful terms as "girl," "boy," "house," "little," "friend," and "A 1/2." I'd be better off finding similar books by using the subject headings in the book's record but I can't search by them with this interface.

Finally, I think that in most cases our patrons don't want to explore; they want to find something. Most patrons do a broad search to begin with, using one or two keywords. In my opinion, the word cloud associations just give you a chance to get lost more quickly in color. But, now that AquaBrowser is online here, I will say for the record that it has some very nice features, apart from the word cloud. I can limit my results to Liverpool Library, a feature that bedeviled me in Horizon. My "vegetarian cooking" search contained links to Data Sources from our library. These led me to web sites in our Internet Subject Guide. Cool! The options for refining and the related subject headings are good, too. Aqua also has a link to create an RSS feeds based on my searches. And it's fast, too.

In the future, AquaBrowser will offer a feature called My Discoveries, allowing users to make lists for themselves or make public to help others; tagging; reviewing and scoring on any item (similar to Amazon's features) and personal profiles. I'm still a major fan of Polaris but AquaBrowser has some good things going.

Quint: Mr. Hooper, what exactly can you do with these things of yours?

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