Searching The Ledger

ledgersearch.jpgIt looks like the Ledger has scrapped their Search function.

And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The old function was slow and complex. The Ledger is now redirecting all searches to Google.

And that isn’t necessarily a good thing.

It takes a talent to wade through a Google search. Many users simply don’t have the expertise to find what they truly wanted. Plus, it looks like some Ledger material isn’t indexed by Google. Follow me as we hack through the search brush.

Let’s see if we can find Ellen Goodman’s February 2 op-ed column in the Ledger.

First off, how is The Ledger using Google? They’ve simply linked to an advanced Google search that includes the search term and site:theledger.com. That extra information tells Google to only search theledger.com for the term. (The site function also works at Yahoo Search.)

First, search Ellen Goodman Two links and neither is the column. If you add quote marks around her name, “Ellen Goodman” you get a single link, oddly enough, to a quote.

We can try the article headline, “Massachusetts, Home of Candidates” 57 links and none is the column.

You know you can search for Ledger articles from a specific day. You didn’t? Well, it’s hidden at the bottom of the front page (and maybe elsewhere). Look for “REVIEW EDITIONS SINCE OCT. 1, 2005” You just enter your date in Star Trek notation. (I kid. It’s the international standard, ISO 8601 adapted for machine reading of dates.)

Here is the result for February 2, 2007. Whoa. That looks like today’s paper. It even has today’s date listed below the banner. However, if you look carefully you’ll see that’s old news. Those are most of the stories from the February 2, 2007 online edition edition of The Ledger. No luck for our column though. We tried clicking the “More Editorials” in the vain hope it would be the February 2, 2007 editorials. No luck. We jumped to today’s listing of recent editorials. If you click on “Recent Editorial Columnists” you get just the local columnists.

After all that we didn’t find the article. We could by bypassing The Ledger. If you simply search Ellen Goodman without specifying The Ledger site the first result is the archive of her columns at the Boston Globe. But, wait, you have to sign up for access. When will newspapers learn? (Here’s a trick: BugMeNot)

Anyway, here’s the column.

You may wonder why searching The Ledger is important. The newspaper is our history. As Lakeland has grown the newspaper has recorded our life. In many cases, the newspaper report is all we have to remember a Lakeland event. However, most important is this quote:

“I really don’t know whether we’ll be printing the Times in five years, and you know what? I don’t care, either,” he says. He’s looking at how best to manage the transition from print to Internet. — Arthur Sulzberger

Sulzberger is owner, chairman and publisher of the New York Times. The Times owns the Ledger. I am sure you know where I’m going with that. (But, I really expect the Ledger’s print edition will outlast the Times’.)

Now, I’ve come to praise The Ledger, not bury it. The old search function was slow and unwieldy. I can’t even guarantee I would have found the Ellen Goodman column there. Still, a good search function is a required tool for online news sites. The Ledger suffers from a problem faced by many online editions: customers expect very easy access to old news. We believe we should have instant access to anything ever online.

That’s never going to be easy, and in some cases, not even possible.

First, please commend The Ledger for having their archives available. Far too many newspapers shoot themselves in the foot by hiding archives behind a for-pay firewall. They have their model backwards. Today’s news is worth money, but yesterday’s news is fish wrap. It was true with actual news paper, and it’s true online.

Second, kudos to the Ledger for rolling out the Google search. That was a quick and efficient solution. I doubt it will be the end of the upgrade. I don’t know what else they plan, but I have a few ideas. &bull They could improve searching the paper by adding links to columnists right at their name. &bull Use the prime link bar (the blue one on the left) to explain the categories. They could do it with fly-outs as the reader hovers over a link. &bull (In case you missed it, the Ledger does have a sitemap that lists most columns and category headers.) &bull I’d move the sitemap, search function, and review editions function to their own section on the blue column. &bull Then I’d add a second search box to Yahoo. The old search engine has added muscle in the last year. At times it does a better job of arranging links. &bull Finally, a little thing, but I’d love to see PDFs of front pages available somewhere on the site. Sometimes that front page reminds me when I read a particular story.

I’m going to build a Media link section for Lakeland Local. I’ll make some of the functions I mentioned and look for ways to improve searching for Lakeland information. If you look to the far right column, I’ve already included a Google search that is narrowed to the Lakeland blogs. My next project is to find a way to improve reading Billy Townsend’s blog for TBO.com. They’ve done a spectacular job of making it difficult to read his old posts.

Ledger logo (c) 2007 The Ledger – Screengrab used for illustration purpose only. I’m sure the Ledger would like you to know I do not represent them in any way.

2 thoughts on “Searching The Ledger

  1. There’s a reason you didn’t find the op-ed online Chuck — we don’t put them online.

    Our contract allows for the print inclusion but not web inclusion.

    Try searching for a locally-written story next time, and you may come up with a more accurate depiction of how the new search function works. I’d be interested, especially after my own tests this morning.

  2. There’s a reason you didn’t find the op-ed online Chuck — we don’t put them online.

    Our contract allows for the print inclusion but not web inclusion.

    Try searching for a locally-written story next time, and you may come up with a more accurate depiction of how the new search function works. I’d be interested, especially after my own tests this morning.

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