After providing nearly 15 years of service to data seekers in libraries, businesses and government, the Census Bureau retired its legacy American FactFinder online search tool. The new version, aptly named, American FactFinfder 2, was released January 18, 2011. It changed the way users would search for, access and interact with U.S. Census Bureau data.
The changes in the interface were rather dramatic, and unexpected by many users of the traditional FactFinder interface. Fairly soon after its introduction, complaints and criticism began to be heard. Below are some quotes from blog posts expressing the dissatisfaction of traditional users, soon after its introduction.
"If you use data from the U.S. Census Bureau, you have probably already noticed the radical change to the American Fact Finder tool. If you are frustrated by these changes, know that you are most definitely, not alone. The new AFF (or AFF2 as the Census Bureau advertised) no longer has the Turbo Tax-esque guided search feature that allowed users to build a query step-by-step. Instead, the new AFF thrusts users into a convoluted and overly-designed interface that makes it very difficult to figure out where to start."
( Usability Gone Wrong: American Fact Finder 2 )
"For those of us providing census data services through the old FactFinder, this transition is a little painful. Sometimes it really is tough to teach old dogs new tricks. The interface is different, the terminology is different, the access process is different – but, the new system also contains a wealth of new capabilities and consolidates virtually all of the Census Bureau’s data products into one access system."
"Since the new FactFinder was unveiled in January of 2011 for the release of the 2010 Census results there have been whoops and cries from data users around the country who didn’t like it. It wasn’t intuitive (of course neither is the old one when you first access it!)..." ( Finding Demographic Facts with the New FactFinder! )
It appears that the Census Bureau has heard these complaints and last month released an additional, more user-friendly interface to be used alongside or instead of Facfinder 2. Their news release states "The new features include a simplified main page design, the option for a guided search and an enhanced community facts tool, providing options for both novice and advanced data users."
The new "Guided Search" does appear to provide a less complex and confusing search process that takes users step-by-step in defining their search. The Guided Search presents users with five major categories from which to begin their search : People, Housing, Business or Industry, Dataset, or a specific table title.
Subsequent steps prompt the user to add additional parameters to refine their search. This process seems much more straight forward and understandable when compared with the similar process in the advanced FactFinder2 interface.
While the advanced version does contains a wealth of new capabilities. It's original iteration felt like it was designed by computer technicians for demographers, rather than for members of the public or even experienced librarians. The new additional simplified interface should bring back users who had begun using alternative Census data retrival products, like Social Explorer, Data Ferret.