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JC opens archive

by: Ben Simons - Last updated: 2006-03-07

Jewish Chronicle archive page

JC Archive page

Last week saw the launch of the Jewish Chronicle's archive service that allows people to access content from the world's oldest Jewish newspaper. Accessible directly from its own homepage, users can search through the entire paper that has been published since 1841.

From births, deaths and marriages through to interviews with Chief Rabbis, politicians and entertainers, the Jewish Chronicle has opened up its valuable archive to all.

In its basic form, you can search the archive for free. Enter some text about who or what you are looking for and the service will return a page with what it considers to be the results based on your criteria.

When it comes to what you get for free, well, it's just the results - nothing more and nothing less. On the results page, the PDF document of the original Jewish Chronicle page will be shown all blurred out making it impossible to read anything. The idea behind this is clearly to encourage people to subscribe to the paper in order to read the results online.

The Jewish Chronicle in an attempt to stabilise dropping readership has implemented the service as an add-on to those who subscribe either by post or through their newsagent. It gives readers an extra incentive to keep buying it and allows the Jewish Chronicle to get people to pay a year in advance. Prices for subscriptions start from £40 a year.

So far so good. There's nothing wrong with charging users to access the service, but here's where the Jewish Chronicle gets a bit greedy. If you then want to download the results, it will cost you. A number of options are available, a single download is £5 while if you prepay for 100 it will cost £100.

If you don't have a subscription to the paper, you can pay a one-off £25 to get 24 hour access and 5 downloads. Or you could pay £400 a year and get unlimited downloads.

By expecting people to pay for a subscription to get access to the service and then pay more on top to download what they are searching for, The JC really pushes the level of chutzpah. Of course, there is a way round to having to pay for a download by copying the page result into a photo software package and cropping it from there.

But if someone is already subscribing, The JC should give them access to the information they believe they are paying for. Ok, maybe it could charge for a facsimile of the page as a premium high quality download, but at the very least it should provide the page information to the subscriber in some form without additional charge – even as just text.

And what of the results?  Well, the service takes the text you are looking for and then produces results based on it. If it doesn't find something, it says so, if it does find something it will say so, but the quality can leave much to be desired.

When it works well, then it is a good service, but when it doesn't, well, the Jewish Chronicle can come across as being very obscene at times, even though of course, such words were never printed in the first place, but it's scanning technique of pages has resulted in many errors and mistakes.

Sometimes letters like t and k get messed up. One result showed: "for the life you and your partner wank" another "They can really choose the lives they wank to lead". 

Other results: "The study of boobs was another interest which might...", ".. showed himself the champion of the Jewish boobs; for he held the cause of scholarship, as well as true...", ".... AS a result of my appeal I have received various parcels of boobs, which will be a source of great..."

On occasion it can be somewhat amusing to see such results, but you have to question how accurate it really is if it produces such poor results and cannot identify between certain letters.

If you are looking for your family or searching some other aspect of Jewish life, the Jewish Chronicle can be and should be a first stop due to its publishing since 1841, but is badly let down by its implementation of an online archive.

A bit more thought into the user process of how people will be searching could have made this into a better service. 

As it stands, it needs to be improved and refined. If the Jewish Chronicle does that and improves the overall accessibility of the service, then they could be onto a winner, but as it stands now, it looks more like a product that is in the early stages of a beta test.

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Jewish Chronicle