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Factiva Scrambles to Fix Date-Ranging Glitch in Publications Library
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Posted On October 15, 2001
The first word on the street that there were problems in date ranging on Factiva's Publications Library collection of full-text documents came from professional searchers discussing the issue on librarian listservs. One report came from searchers at the Business Week library. Apparently, using the "Current and Previous Year" default option in the "Advanced Searching" module failed to recover results from the years 1999 or 2000. Specifying the 2000 date range (from mm/dd/yyyy to mm/dd/yyyy) brought up nothing. The problem began a week or more before the complaints arose, but no warnings were placed on the relevant pages nor were alerts transmitted to registered users.

Factiva (http://www.factiva.com) staff explained that the glitch arose in the course of a major maintenance activity, which was expected to last through the end of the year. Faced with the challenge of faulty date searches until the year 2002, users raised a fuss. According to Patricia Bridges, vice president of public relations, Factiva was initially unaware of the problem or that this maintenance activity had had any effect on customers. The problem had continued for about 6 days before the company started getting calls that alerted it to the glitch. Bridges stated that Factiva's normal behavior would be to identify the problems and communicate to customers. Failure to notify customers this time was "an aberration."

Bridges promised that Factiva would modify the date-searching default screen to "Current Year" by midnight on October 12. The company would also place warnings and help statements on the service, and send e-mail notifications to subscribers. The company's best advice was to use the "All Dates" option. Users particularly interested in articles from the years 1999 or 2000 could specify date sorting instead of relevance ranking as their display instruction in the "Advanced Searching" module and then scan through screens of data until they reached what they needed. However, Bridges indicated that a final fix, returning to an effective "Current and Previous Year" option, could take months.

On October 13, I checked the Publications Library. The specific date ranging worked for 1999 and 2000, singly or combined. However, the "Current and Previous Year" continued as the default option and continued to retrieve only articles from the year 2001.

On October 14, I checked the Publications Library again. This time the "Current and Previous Year" worked, gathering all of the years 2001, 2000, and 1999.

So the problem was fixed and faster than anticipated. But what lessons does this teach us? In an end-user searching world, traditional information industry firms can no longer rely on professional searchers serving as their early-warning system. The firms may have to do more in-house technical checking and build in more protective procedures to avoid such glitches. Motivation should be high, particularly in this case. Factiva does not charge for searching, only for finding and retrieving search results. Not only customers lose when the service fails to retrieve items of interest, so does Factiva.

More important, the policies and procedures for handling such glitches—posting warning notices on home pages and sending out e-mail alerts—just won't cut it when dealing with end-user markets. Factiva's Publications Library goes out to end-users through systems that do not require registration, e.g., through dowjones.com and a network of affiliate Web site outlets. Users only give names and contact information when they decide to buy an article. So how could Factiva notify any of those many users effectively? Only by alerting users at the search page, something that end-users still might not notice.

Ultimately, Factiva seems to have found the best course, namely a permanent fix. But maybe just one more check, starting October 15?


Barbara Quint is senior editor of Online Searcher, co-editor of The Information Advisor’s Guide to Internet Research, and a columnist for Information Today.

Email Barbara Quint
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