Tuesday, 8 September 2009

A makeover for cwgc.org

It's a pity that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has missed an opportunity to make its on-line Debt of Honour Register more user friendly.

The new-look Register appears today but its only so much old wine in new bottles and could have offered a lot more. I've always found the search function frustrating. The CWGC holds a lot of information about the men and women it commemorates but only allows the visitor to search on basic terms. The old look-look site allowed visitors to search on surname and initial and then war, year of death, service (ie army, navy etc) and force (ie British, Australian, Canadian etc). The new-look site allows visitors exactly the same options albeit you now have to make one extra click to bring up the "advanced" [sic] search options of war, year of death, service, and force if you discover that typing in "Smith" and "J" is simply going to present you with too many possibilities.

They've changed the font and the point size and also laid out the information in a different order but the search engine still falls woefully short. Why for instance can we not search on the person's full name, or actual date of death, or army number, or regiment, or battalion? Why can we not search on keywords contained in the additional information? The CWGC contains all of that data and it therefore surely can't be such an onerous or difficult task to include these as search options.

In its favour, there are more search options once the results have been returned. I see that there are 1001 results for J Smith (that's the equivalent of a WW1 battalion of men named J Smith) and once the results are returned it is then possible to sort the information by surname, rank, service number, date of death, age, regiment/service, force, memorial/grave ref, and cemetery/memorial name. All of this is an improvement and proves that it is possible to manipulate all of the data fields. So why then can we not search on all of these?

The CWGC has also missed an opportunity to link in with The War Graves Photographic Project and include details of individuals for whom a war grave or memorial photo exists. This is both surprising and disappointing, particularly as TWGPP works as a joint venture with CWGC.

If I was a teacher, marking this latest piece of 'homework' from CWGC I'd be writing "could do better" in the margin. Let's hope that the next upgrade, whenever it comes, makes the site even more user friendly.

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