Thursday, April 1st. This morning the international federated search watch group, Federation is Bad (FIB), released its findings of a comprehensive 20-year study of student perceptions of federated search. The news isn’t good. The study followed the federated search habits of 7 undergraduates who each spent 20 years (or longer) in one of a dozen American universities. While the test subjects initially liked federated search (during their first few years as freshmen) by years 18 and 19, they didn’t care much for the technology.

Immediately following the dismaying news, a new international federated search watch group, Federation is Good (FIG), was formed to contest the findings of FIB. FIG challenged the FIB findings on a couple of fronts. “FIB’s findings are nowhere near statistically significant and their results are not at all relevant,” claimed FIG spokeswoman Mata Serge. “They only included 7 [expletive deleted] students in their cheesy study,” noted Serge. “And, most students finish their undergraduate work in 8 or 10 years, not 20. Their study is seriously flawed.”

While FIB could not be reached for commentary, this blogger was able to obtain a copy of the research findings. It was not easy to get the report. FIB didn’t put it on the Web. I had to go to a library and speak to a librarian to find a copy. As an aside, I have to say that it was a good experience to enter a library and, just like a student, to stumble around, looking at card catalogs, confusing computer screens, and to talk to a librarian. Being an avid user of federated search I had long forgotten what students do when they’re doing research.

The FIB report included eye-opening interviews with several of its subjects. One subject, Haitu Serge (no relation to Mata Serge), was quite vehement about federated search.

Me: So, you don’t like federated search?
HS: It’s really really bad.
Me: What’s wrong with it?
HS: It’s too confusing. Screens and buttons and boxes and typing. It’s too much for me.
Me: Are there any computer programs you like?
HS: No. They’re all the same.

At this point I think Mr. HS’s problem with federated search might be a more serious, and probably diagnosable, illness. For fun, though, I continued the interview.

Me: How long have you been in college.
HS: 17 years.
Me: Wow! And, you’re not a graduate student?
HS: No, I want to finish my undergraduate education first and then focus on my graduate studies.
Me: I see. Speaking of focus, what’s your major?
HS: Library Studies.
Me: Interesting. And, you don’t like federated search or any other computer programs, right?
HS: Yes, that’s true.
Me: Don’t today’s library students have to perform research as part of the curriculum?
HS: Yes. I like to perform research.
Me: And, you don’t much like computers. So, how to do you find things?
HS: Microfiche.

FIG is currently preparing a rebuttal to the FIB paper. Its goal is to find 8 students who like federated search and to use them to objectively demonstrate the value of the technology. I’ll comment on the report, assuming I can find it on the deep Web.

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