April 27, 2011
By David McKelvey
We recently made a few more updates to the search engine to improve the find-ability of faculty information.
We link to LiveWhale faculty pages.
Every night, we refresh our people data from Colleague (Lewis & Clark’s central people database). We get all kinds of contact and basic information about everyone directly associated with Lewis & Clark, like current faculty, staff and students.
For faculty, we know that many if not all professors (i.e. not instructors or adjuncts) have LiveWhale faculty pages with a basic set of information about them. (They may also have more extensive LiveWhale sites or other sites, but at least they should have this default page.) The link to their LiveWhale page is a standardized path that we know, so we use that url as a link from their search engine results (or when you click on their name in the search dropdown).
Great, what’s the problem?
However, because the link is based on their name as entered in Colleague which can and does change from time to time, there are some links that don’t work. (Being based on their name improves SEO, so it’s important that it be that way.) And, because updates to Colleague occur without notice (as they should), we never know when a new faculty member might appear or disappear.
This led to a small but annoying percentage of faculty links that would deliver you right to the 404 missing page, clearly a bad user experience, particularly when provided from the search dropdown. (We hate bad user experience.)
Automation to the rescue!
This is an interesting problem to fix, since we never know in advance what changes might have occurred in the incoming Colleague data. But, we can act on the data as we get it, and so with a little automation, we’re doing just that.
Now, each night after we reload the people, we gather all the faculty with a rank of some level of professor and test the url to where their faculty page should reside. If the test succeeds, we keep that link available in search results. If the test fails, then we don’t, and provide a link to their contact information in the search engine instead.
And once a week, the test failures are emailed to Morgan and myself, so that we can keep up with new faculty and correct any faculty name changes as well.
Note: we only check faculty with a rank of some form of professor since at this point, to our knowledge, no adjuncts or instructors have LiveWhale faculty pages. We’re not opposed to opening this service up to them, but at this point, why waste the cycles if there’s no pages to test. We do automatically link to search engine contact data for adjunct faculty and instructors.