In the previous installment, we already looked at how FedBizOpps might be improved by displaying long lists of search results using continuous scrolling. This post takes a closer look at one improvement that might be made to the structure of the results themeselves.

Imagine for a moment that you’re a general contractor with a proven track record building professional-grade data center facilities, and you’re looking for federal opportunities that would match your skills and experience opportunities involving data centers and construction. So you enter those terms into the search field, and the system responds with the following results.

The immediate and obvious difficulty with the way the search results are presented is that nowhere in the listing does the system give any indication about the context in which the search keywords might have been used. So while I can see from the classification codes that the first three opportunities (red/pink boxes) might relate to construction and building in some way whereas the next two (blue/aqua boxes) probably do not, the only way I’m going to know for sure is by clicking through to the listing which breaks your flow of scanning the opportunities list. In most applications it might be possible to right click on the subject links and load the opportunity detail pages for interesting items in separate windows, we’re already discussed the ways that FedBizOpps breaks the browser when it comes to working in multiple windows or tabs.

A Better Solution from the New Kids on the Block

For those who haven’t been paying attention, there have been some recent developments over at the GSA as they’ve assembled a new team of developers, designers, and data scientists with a mandate to raise the bar for digital services delivery by federal agencies. Dubbed 18F, they’ve created quite a stir among open government nerds with their initial project – a prototype application called FBOpen which offers a different view on the same data set used by FBO. While the interface is a lot less cluttered, downright sparse, I like what they’ve done with the individual search results – being more selective about the data shown and providing a short fragment of text from the opportunity description that shows my search keywords in context. It’s a brilliant piece of work, even if only considered in the contrast it offers from the standard FedBizOpps interface and how quickly they’ve been able to put it out into the world.

The application is intended more as a demonstration of the web service they’ve built for searching federal business opportunity data, and so it has some basic limits that reduce its utility for opportunity search and business development activities. Even so, it’s still a very promising development and one that BetterFBO will be using as a yardstick during development and initial launch.

Note: Jason Hull calls out this issue along with other problems affecting the FedBizOpps search function in a 2012 post The Failure Of Search At FedBizOpps. It’s a thoughtful listing of some of the same flaws that BetterFBO will be looking to remedy when it launches.