I was doing some poking around to find out about OpenNet (which the Department of State uses), and I came across a DOE implementation of it (they apparently helped invent it.) Clicking the author link works really well! The site is clean and crisp. Very professional looking.

The “Document Categories” list on the Advanced Search page gave me pause.  

There are about 70 categories listed, in no discernible order, except for occasional apparent groupings of consecutive listings. One of those groupings, strangely enough, is “Laser Isotope Separation” and “Other Isotope Separation Information”, while “Isotope Separation” is the first category in the entire list. “Other Weapon Topics” is near the end; various weapon categories are sprinkled throughout the list. I guess you have to go through the whole list to see if your weapon of choice is “other”.

You might at least expect an alphabetical order. Best practices would suggest that we put 70 terms into a list of 20 – 25 so they will easily display on a web page or a LONG drop down list. After that a hierarchical grouping would be useful

Fourth from the end is plain old “Other”. Not to be topped by that, the very last item is “General, Miscellaneous, Administrative, Historical and”. (I might be able to find out what comes after “and” if I did a search.) I’m not sure what the differences are among “Other”, “General”, and “Miscellaneous”. Perhaps in Government speak you need to get all of them covered but seems like a great place to use synonyms.

DOE had an excellent thesaurus inherited from ERDA which replaced the AEC in 1975. It was built using the standards we all now follow. It became very large without strong controls on the term added and other governance. More recently it has been subsumed in a joint effort with INIS called the ETDE/INIS Joint Thesaurus Project. A good idea since the combination of the two nuclear information thesauri will better serve the greater global community with a single nomenclature. .

The actual site however makes one wonder if the lure of indexing using the computer without any help from the human brain made them do away with application of the thesaurus/indexing practice and instead depend on the computer guessing what the user wants? What happened to the idea that the human can enhance search using a computer? I don’t know how any one finds stuff using this system. No wonder our intelligence systems are so flawed! Or maybe that is the idea, the data is there and open… hard to pinpoint but satisfies the openness criteria.

Marjorie M.K. Hlava
President, Access Innovations