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New is Not Always Better -- It's Just New: Legislative Research edition



It would appear that the federal government no longer loves Thomas Jefferson. That is the only conclusion I can make as a result of the roll-out of the beta version of Congress.gov, the legislative web site created to replace Thomas.loc.gov, the Library of Congress’ legislative web site. 

As with everything new, Congress.gov bills itself as an improvement over Thomas.loc.gov, but not for the right reasons.  The first reason is that the new platform allows, “Simultaneously search all content across all available years.” Searching across all content for all years is a recipe for bringing back too many results and confusing the researcher. The preferred strategy is to search as narrowly as possible and expand out from there. The other improvement is that the new design will improve searching on mobile devices. I see two problems here; 1)Is this a real selling point? And 2) Why are you searching legislation on a mobile device? I can imagine you would do it if you worked on Capital Hill, and maybe if you are a lobbyist, but do normal people do this? I also notice a focus on Congressional member profiles.  While this is nice, the emphasis of the site should be on the work of Congress, not the Congress-critters themselves. I can go to several other sources, including, dare I say, Wikipedia, if I want to learn more about a current or former member of Congress, and get more complete coverage (the current site has partial coverage back to 1947).

I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t comment on the site itself. The lay-out has improved with tabs replacing the plain links on Thomas.  A greater emphasis seems to be placed on how Congress works and explaining the legislative process to the regular citizen since a link is devoted to the legislative process with a video, but sad to say, but neither Morgan Freeman nor James Earl Jones narrate.  

This celebratory blog post from the Washington Post is quick to mock the old Thomas site, but doesn’t say why the new site is better, aside from its availability on mobile devices and the fact that  “the Congressional leadership has seen the site and has “been very supportive” of its development.” So if members of Congress are supportive it must be good?  The endorsement of members of Congress will not make me switch to the new site, that is, until Thomas.loc.gov is taken down.

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