Can we get rid of the paper Directory?

Here’s an extract from an email I sent out recently in response to this question. Some of the suggestions here would also help us improve how we structure user permissions, return search results generally, and consolidate how we display information about people accross multiple institutions:There are both programmatic and culture issues with the current Directory. Here are the things I think we’d need to change to really be able to get rid of the print Directory. By the way, I think the suggestion to have a PDF (or plain HTML with no search) version of the Directory is a really good one. This would deal with the issue of printing costs and provide a usable alternative to the search interface.

1. Cultural: You can hide information from the Directory. My phone number isn’t listed because I don’t like receiving phone calls and the Directory, ever since its first online version, has allowed people to hide whatever information they like (including their whole record). If we eliminate the print Directory, we need to reach an understanding on campus that certain information will always be displayed (which fields are default will differ between faculty, staff, and students) and that people can’t choose to hide their records. It’d be great, too, if we could encourage people to have a visible Directory photo, but I won’t push my luck.

2. Programmatic: There are no numbers to call for departments. Robert Armstrong in Public Safety feels the pain here, since he’s the first result when you search for that department and gets all the call directly, instead of people calling a central line. Bob Clagett gets a lot of this too, since there’s no contact information for “Admissions”, people just assume that they should send emails right to him. This is a rather easy problem to fix: I just need to compile a list of department contact information and program the directory so that you see it as the first listing if you search for only a department.

3. Programmatic: The search algorithm kind of stinks. It is incorrect, by the way, that you can’t browse all the T’s. Enter T into the “Person’s Name” field and see for yourself (please don’t actually do this). Realistically, we should be using the GSA: providing it an RSS feed of Directory information to crawl and letting it handle Directory search results. I’m not sure how well the results would come out, but we could have this system operate side-by-side with the current search to provide more options.

4. Cultural/Programmatic: The org chart at Middlebury is a closely guarded secret, for reasons I’ve never fully understood. It would seem to make sense on the Directory that some level of organization is presented. For instance, I should be able to search the Directory for the Web Services (or whatever we’re calling ourselves) group and see Joe listed at the top as manager with Adam’s, mine, and Travis’s profiles listed below in alphabetical order. Ideally, the page would also have a link to the ETI listing, with Jeff at the top. This is a bit trickier to implement than the others because none of this information is tracked in the AD.

I’ve written four versions of the Directory application so far while working here and these same issues keep coming up. Another thing to note: the Directory is the only design template we received from Big Bad that was implemented in an application outside of the CMS (it was actually in the CMS for one of those four versions). I would expect WW to include some form of design for the Directory in their deliverables.

Note: since I wrote that email, I’ve found ways to improve how the Directory search works and implemented some of those ideas in the custom search interface referred to in my post yesterday. I no longer strictly believe that we should feed Directory search results through the GSA.

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