A very bad index…

Indexing and Taxonomy creation are closely related processes. In the first case we start with a body of content and then pull from it the key ideas, concepts, pieces of knowledge that we think users would like to access and then create pointers to the content. In the second, we look at a body of information and determine the categories that can be used to describe the content. (Usually without regard to the pointers to instances of terms).


I wrote the following up as a good example of a bad index for a discussion list:

I had to determine the correct pressure for my tires siince one was low. One would think that this handy bit of inforamation would be readily accessible. Here is what I went through in searching for this in my car owner’s manual:

Turn to the index and look for Tire Pressure.

Entries as follow:
Tire
Low Message
Tire Inflation Check
TIRE MON (Tire Inflation Monitor Reset)
Tire Sidewall Labeling
Tire Size
Tire Terminology and Definitions
Tires
Buying New tires
Chains
Changing a Flat Tire
Compact Spare Tire
If a Tire Goes Flat
Inflation – Tire Pressure

(I realize I should have started with the last entry, but I started with the first one that made sense to me and followed the trail from there…)

Starting with “Tire – Low Message”, P 3-48 has the valuable insight that Low Tire Pressure Message indicates that the tire pressure is low and to see page 5-64 for information on the “Tire Pressure Monitor System” under “Tires”

Tire Inflation Check on page 6-9 says to check to be sure tires are inflated to the correct pressure. See “Tires” on pate 5-64

I guess we need to be on P 5-64 to learn all about Tires.

Tires on 5-64 tells us that “the vehicle comes with high quality tires made by a leading tire manufacturer.”

“If you have questions about your tire warranty and where to obtain service, see your GM Warranty booklet for details. For additional information refer to the tire manufacturers booklet included with your vehicle’s Owner’s Manual.”

Wait a minute, I thought I was in the Owner’s Manual… Just checked. Yup, I was in the Owner’s Manual.

That page also contains yellow boxes with the words CAUTION and warnings about “overloading your tires can cause overheating and result in an ‘air-out’…” and to see “Loading Your Vehicle” in the index.

(Good thing we are not talking about a “blow-out”… an “air-out” sounds much less risky. )

There are also warnings of under inflating, over inflating and worn tires…. Looks like all we need to know now is the TIRE PRESSURE!!!

Obviously I should have first turned to “Tires – Inflation – Tire Pressure” on page 5-72

OK, this must be it…. Let’s see

Inflation – Tire Pressure P 5-72
“The tire and loading information label, shows the correct inflation pressures for your tires when they’re cold. ‘Cold’ means means your vehicle has been sitting for at least 3 hours…. See ‘Loading Your Vehicle’ on page 4-32 for the location of your vehicles tire and loading information”… This was followed by more warnings about over and under inflation, etc, etc…

Loading Your Vehicle P 4-32
“It is very important to know how much weight your vehicle can carry. This weight is called the vehicle capacity weight… Two labels indicate how much the vehicle can carry… the Tire and Loading Information label and the Certification label. ”

“The Tire and Loading Information label shows the seating capacity and the total weight your vehicle can properly carry. This weight is called the vehicle capacity weight. If your vehicle has the Tire and Loading Information label, Example 1, the label is attached to the center pillar, near the drivers door latch. If your vehicle has Tire and Loading Information label, Example 2, the label is on the inside trunk lid.”

I see, I was looking in the wrong place the entire time. It wasn’t even in the book after all. No wonder the index did not help…

This lost a little of its ridiculousness in my abridged translation and I know this is not entirely the indexers fault. There was a tremendous amount of useless and self evident explanation that I had to wade through to get to the next reference point. But talk about a frustrating user experience!

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2 Responses

  1. […] A set of search results is in essence a machine generated index. That in my opinion typically lacks context. A human generated index, on the other hand is based on the judgment and perspective of the indexer (not of the author). The indexer is trying to understand the needs of a reader/user and deciding what they would find important. We all know there are bad indexes just like there are bad user interfaces. Here is an example from my car user manual: https://sethearley.wordpress.com/2006/06/08/a-very-bad-index […]

  2. […] The same goes for any application – intranet, web site, software product, or car owners manual for that matter. (See my post on “A very bad index“). Users care about what they need to get done – not your clever product or internal names. […]

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