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On Government Information and Finding It

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Reading in Facebook about an upcoming Procurement Hack by the Open Data Philippines and PhilGEPS, I followed a link to http://data.gov.ph/hackathon and I was shown a 404 Not Found page.

data.gov.ph/hackathon Screenshot
A screenshot of data.gov.ph’s 404 Not Found page.

I still want that information

I could have been well within my wits to simply use Google Search but the immediate thing I did was to search for the word “hackathon” using data.gov.ph’s Search Form – that’s why it’s there, right?

data.gov.ph Search Results
A screenshot of the search results for the term, “hackathon”.

There, I saw the title of what I was looking for as the second result – #KabantayNgBayan.

The link took me to another page with yet another link.

data.gov.ph News Entry
A screenshot of data.gov.ph’s News Entry about a hackathon.

Hoping to “learn more” about #KabantayNgBayan, I followed the link to http://beta.data.gov.ph/news/kabantayngbayan-hacking-national-budget which turned out to be worse than a 404.

Server not found
A screenshot of a “Server not found” page from data.gov.ph.

Now I already knew where the real page was upon hitting that Server Not Found (thanks, Google Search). But we should expect more from Government websites to provide us with the information we are looking for – immediately.

Let me itemize the things that must not be experienced by other users – be it those looking for hackathon information or those looking for more important information on Philippine Government websites.

Could Be Better

Hackathons are like sleepover without the sleep – in a workshop with only cardboards, glues, and scissors as your materials and you are expected to come up with a rocket ship to relocate Philae to a sunny spot. Overnight.

But the websites hosting hackathons shouldn’t appear as if it was done in a half-hackathon event and launched. Think of UX Event websites that actually do not understand what “UX” means.

The Problems

  1. The Missing Hackathon Page. Open Data Philippines hosts its 3rd Hackathon event and it seems like there are more to come yet nowhere on its homepage you will see that there’s a hackathon initiative (except for the ever-changing carousel and news articles).
  2. The Search Forms on the Homepage. Having two search forms is confusing already though the second one is clearly labeled for searching data, the main Search Form at the header also searches for data (not news or other content).
  3. The Quality of Search Results. Since the Search Form on the homepage isn’t working, I used the Search Form on 404 page. It gave me the impression that the information I was looking for was elusive – I couldn’t expect that the top results would lead me to the “right” pages.

The Solutions

  1. Create a Hackathon Page. Like I mentioned above, Open Data Philippines might as well make a dedicated page for its hackathon events as a whole. Even better if the official page has compiled the recent hackathon news, then I might not even need to use the Search Form.
  2. Rectify Broken Links. Nothing is more frustrating than going through several steps in searching for information and arriving at a broken link. Either remove the link to the non-existent information or put a content in the link.
  3. Improve Search Engine Results. It is great that there’s a site Search Form despite the fact that on the homepage it searches only for data (seems like simply a bug) and on the 404 page it is out of alignment (easy to correct). But Search is only as powerful as its results. As someone who is looking for “hackathon” on the Government’s website, the results must come out to be about hackathons in general or the latest hackathon initiative.
  4. Maintain an Old Page. This post started with a simple link: http://data.gov.ph/hackathon. It seemed perfect to contain hackathon initiatives of Open Data Philippines especially that it was once a live link. If it must really be taken down, at least either maintain the page with related links to the hackathons or redirect it to a new related page.

Conclusion

It’s true that this is a simple case of a broken link (or a user who opted not to use Google Search). Besides, I already found what I was looking for. But this scenario has proven to me that there’s a lot to improve regarding how the Government publishes and maintains information on its websites – not to mention when it comes down to searching for it – will the user find what he or she is looking for immediately?

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