The Footnote.com website went live on 10-January-2007, the day of the signing of the partnership agreement with the National Archives. Last month, that anniversary passed unnoticed by tufblog. Let’s correct that oversight right now.
In three years, more than 60 million pages have been published. The indexes are fully searchable for free. Much of the content is free as well. Most of the 60 million images are unique to the web, not available anywhere else. And there is even more data stored in “Footnote Pages” that includes the Social Security Death Index.
The contributions of the user community is not as large as was originally imagined. Don’t confuse quantity with quality, though. There are some priceless additions, as well as enhancements to the search index, from users. It is safe to say that Footnote’s social media offerings have been accepted well by their users, and that the level of user contribution is not matched elsewhere in their industry. (I wouldn’t want to have a debate about user contributed family trees, which are abundant elsewhere, and not on the Footnote site. It’s not their industry?) User photos and comments are richer than I have seen on competitive sites.
Congratulations to the folks at Footnote for reaching a milestone.
And now … the other shoe. I have only two questions.
- Where is the soundex search?
- Where is the fielded annotation?
WHY IS SOUNDEX IMPORTANT?
Sometime in the first month of researching historical individuals, whether famous or simply family, one discovers that the records don’t spell the name the same way. Ergo, finding all of the records for a person means finding records that have “variant expressions” of the name – that say Jim and not Jimmy, that say Sharber and not Sharbrough, and so on. If customers are limited to searching for exact matches, they will overlook records which have been accurately transcribed and indexed, but which don’t say what they expected.
Footnote has addressed this somewhat, by supporting a wild-card search. I can look for “Sharb*” and see all of the Sharbers and Sharbroughs. I can use “K*tzm*” to find Katzman, and Kartzmus, which are sometimes the same person. But success in that endeavor requires the customer to not only know HOW to use the wild cards, but WHEN to use them.
Further, many researchers have experience with Soundex and understand that it provides “near misses” or “close matches.”
By this point in time, one might have expected a “ranked search” feature on the site. Is is unreasonable for customers to ask for enhancements to search?
WHAT IS FIELDED ANNOTATION?
Since launch, Footnote has supported “annotation” of the images on the site. It’s a great feature. If you find a name in a newspaper, or an address, or an error, you can enter it. The problem is, user annotations are keywords. They are not added to the database. If you search on last name, you won’t find annotations. If you search on first name, you won’t find user annotations. If Footnote produced the document using OCR (optical character recognition, a form of “machine reading”), the data goes into keywords, and can’t be searched using the search refinement features for names, places, and years.
Footnote customers might want to pass on their congratulations to the company for the things that they’ve accomplished to date. They might also want to let them know how Footnote might be made more useful. I’ve made two suggestions here. Do you have others?