Tuesday, 8 September 2009

CWGC Search changes - update

The situation with the CWGC I reported on yesterday has taken a few new twists and turns today.

The CWGC reported on their Twitter feed that they were experiencing "technical difficulties" - they later reported that these had been resolved. It also seemed that the search facility had been restored to the way it was. Perhaps they'd been listening to us! Actually, no they hadn't.

It turned out that their new search engine was full of bugs anbd flaws, and had so many errors they had to remove it.

It also became clear that they were going to change the search engine, whether we like it or not.
The following was posted on the CWGC website today:

"Following extensive consultation with users of the popular CWGC website, we have made several changes to the “Search Our Records” section , which will make it easier for people to search our database of 1.7m Commonwealth casualties. However, a technical problem has affected these changes, which has required the temporary reinstatement of the previous search tool.

It is our intention to adopt the improved system, once the technical problem has been resolved. As well as providing a more intuitive system, the changes to the records search facility allow for greater security of our database but regular users may wish to note that one of the likely results of the security upgrade is that external websites will be unable to take advantage of the links to individual casualty details which are currently available

We are confident that these changes to the search facility represent a significant improvement on the previous system and that users will find the changes useful."

I'll come back to that statement later.

The threads on both the Great War Forum and WW2 Talk had some interesting discussion, and I recommend taking the time to have a read of them. Many people had emailed the CWGC to express their dissatisfaction, and lo and behold, someone got a reply from them! Sadly, it doesn't make for encouraging reading, and only highlights that iut appears that the CWGC haven't a cluewhat kind of people actually use their search facility. You can find the reply on both threads linked above, but here it is in all it's glory:

Dear Ms Underwood
Thank you for your email concerning recent changes to the Search Facility on the CWGC website. You may have already noticed that we have temporarily reverted to the older version due to some of the technical problems you and others have noted. However, when the technical issues have been sorted, we do intend to change the Search Facility, which I note has caused problems to people who are running linked databases.

This is the first time that I have been made aware that links have been made directly to the Commission's website. If there are any formal agreements in place, then perhaps you could let me know. If not, then it would seem to me perfectly reasonable for the organisation to make changes it believes enhances the system. I can assure you that there was a wide consultation earlier in the year, which was included on the website. I do not know whether any of the members of your group participated in that consultation. The enhancements of the new system respond to some of the points raised during that consultation.

Your comments about the new system have been noted and will be looked into. In the meantime, I am afraid I can give no assurance that the referencing of casualties on the database will remain the same and you may wish to consider other ways in which to retain your information.

Yours sincerely

David Stacey
Director Information Services
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
2 Marlow Road
Maidenhead
Berks
SL6 7DX

Tel: 01628 507147 (Direct)
Fax: 01628 507186


Let's take a look at some of these comments shall we?

"extensive consultation" - from what anyone can gather this took the form of a survey which was available on the CWGC website. I know enough about surveys and statistics to know that you can take whatever information you want from them. I wouldn't class this as "extensive" - there was no communication with any dedicated users, and certainly no discussion with Geoff, who runs an excellent and far superior search engine to that of the CWGC. I'm sure he'd have been happy to consult with the CWGC to try and improve on their frankly disappointing search facility, but sadly he wasn't given that opportunity.

"easier for people to search" - there has been no change to the search facility. How does that make it easier? Making it weasier would make it possible to narrow your search down to a specific month, or even day.

Want to see who else may have been killed the same day as your grandfather? After all, they may have been mates of his. No chance of doing that with the search as it currently stands, or as it will be in future.

This is not making it any easier to search.

"Greater security of our database" - this statement concerns me somewhat. I don't really understand what they mean and until someone from the CWGC can explain it I think we have a right to be concerned by it.

"We are confident that these changes to the search facility represent a significant improvement on the previous system and that users will find the changes useful." - well, this is just nonsense, isn't it? I can point them in the direction of dozens of users of their site who don't consider it an improvement and find it somewhat less than useful!

As for the email from David Stacey, there are a number of points that merit further discussion.

"This is the first time that I have been made aware that links have been made directly to the Commission's website." - Seriously?!?! I find that very hard to believe. Do they live in a bubble? I expect not, but okay, let's give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they don't know anything about the people using their database. As my friend John Duncan has stated on the GWF "If this gentlemen is unaware of external websites linking into the CWGC site then he is not the man for the job".

"formal agreements" - This confuses me. I'm sure many people were unaware that there should be any kind of formal agreement. Does this conflict with this part of their Terms and Conditions? I quote:

This material may be reproduced free of charge in any format or medium for personal use or for internal circulation at an educational establishment, provided it is not altered or used in a misleading context and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is acknowledged as the source of the material.

I don't have an issue with his statement that they are free to change things if they wish. We can't stop them, obviously. However, I don't accept that there was "extensive consultation" and I certaily don't believe that anyones comments will be looked into.

Still, we can always voice our opinions, so if you'd like to do so, then feel free to email David Stacey. Or write him a letter. Here's his details again:

David Stacey
Director Information Services
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
2 Marlow Road
Maidenhead
Berks
SL6 7DX

Tel: 01628 507147 (Direct)
Fax: 01628 507186
david.stacey@cwgc.org


Oh look. A direct telephone number. Why not give him a call? Tell him what a bad idea their "revamp" is. I'm sure he'd love to hear from you. But please, keep it polite.

Alternatively, why not email some of the other people involved with the CWGC? Here's some ore details:

Mr Peter Francis
Head of Communication
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
2 Marlow Road
Maidenhead
Berkshire SL6 7DX
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 1628 634221
Tel: +44 (0) 1628 507163
Fax: +44 (0) 1628 771208
peter.francis@cwgc.org

Mr Andrew Bishop
Director of Information Technology
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
2 Marlow Road
Maidenhead
Berkshire SL6 7DX
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 1628 634221
Fax: +44 (0) 1628 771208


Apparently Peter Francis is on holiday at the moment, but I'm sure someone is monitoring his inbox. And if they aren't, I'm sure it'll be full on his return...

One thing is clear - the CWGC have done themselves no favours with this. There are many members of both the Great War Forum and WW2 Talk involved in projects to try and have men missing from the CWGC Register brought "in from the cold" - they must be feeling incredibly let down right now, since this will make their work a lot harder. It also shows that the organisation they are working incredibly hard to help clearly doesn't give two hoots about them.

As I've typed this, a member of the GWF has stated:

I'm just going out but I've found a letter from Andrew Stillman, Records & Enquiries manager in Aug 2005 where he gives permission for us to use the links to CWGC. "The Commission is always pleased to support such causes which go hand in hand with our aim to reach as big an audience as possible"

Are they still pleased to support such causes? Doesn't seem like it...

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