In February 2008 I asked the question “Is Southampton Setting A New Standard For Institutional Web Sites?“. There was subsequently a lively discussion about the iSoton service, with Helen Aspell, Head of Digital Marketing at the University of Southampton and the person who led this collaborative project, describing the background to this work.

But in addition to the main iSoton page, which provides access to information about the University of Southampton held on Web 2.0 services including Youtube, Flickr and Wikipedia, it is also work noting the approach taken to the provision of a search interface for resources at the University of Southampton. The search page is illustrated below.

University of Southampton search page

It is interesting to observe the single search box used for searching (on the top row) publications, people and experts and (on the bottom row) the main University of Southampton Web site and all Web sites at the University of Southampton.

And although the Search publications option allows you to refine a search or start an advanced search, this isn’t the case with the other searches.

Does this, I wonder, reflect the evidence that very few users ever make use of the advanced search capabilities? Or is this a worrying trend, a dumbing down of search for what should be typically an intelligent group of users?

I have to say that I’m looking forward to hearing Helen give a talk about the iSoton service at this year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW 2008). Alison Widish, head of Web Services at the University of Bath recently commented on a presentation by Helen at the CASE 2008 conference: “I eagerly awaited Helen’s talk and I wasn’t disappointed“. Alison went on to say:

Overall I was really impressed with Southampton not just with the website (which I find visually appealing and easy to use) but with the way the University LIVE their brand. It’s incredibly important to know who you are as an Institution and to provide an experience which reflects that… and it’s great to see this being carried across to the web.

Lots of food for thought!

And as this year’s theme for IWMW 2008 is “The Great Debate” I’m sure Helen’s talk on the first day of the event will help to contribute to the discussions on future directions for both the institutional Web site and institutional approaches to search. But if you can’t make it to Aberdeen, feel free to engage in the debate here.