Last night I was trolling the internet for information on Rota virus symptoms, and trying to determine if I should be dashing to the ER or riding the tide as my six-month old entered the fifth day of Rota virus symptoms. (thankfully, as I write this, he is now showing real signs of improvement. phew…).
Light Iris is exactly the search engine for parents like me. Touted as “only the best of Google for new Moms,” the site’s creators certainly set up high expectations for users. But as a parent and as a web usability expert, I can say without reservation that Light Iris is an excellent tool for those new moms (and Dads) it attempts to serve.
Do a straight Google search for “Rotavirus” and “listless” (yes. I was a little panicked) and you immediately receive a dizzying array of results. First off the bat is a document by the Center for Disease Control, on some levels useful—presenting some basic facts about the virus and its symptoms--though likely to scare the bejeezus out of you with statistics on infant mortality, and also focused on vaccine development. Interesting, but not what I was looking for.
What I was looking for was help, reassurance, and information specific to my personal situation as a parent of an ailing child.
At Light Iris, a similar search for “Rotavirus” information immediately took me to a first tier of reliable sources for parents in my predicament—sites that, as a more seasoned parent I am now very familiar with, but as a new parent had little knowledge of: kidshealth.org, askdrsears.com, drspock.com, and information from the FDA. Of course, this is information I could have found through Google, though I would have spent considerably more time digging and sifting through the results before landing on what I was looking for.
More to the point, Light Iris returns effective results for less clear-cut searches, and this is where the site’s real strength begins to come into play. As a blogger, I often play the “check my search referrals” game. It’s normally cause for a bit of a giggle, but among the pursuit for “Ostrich Sleep Habits” (to mention one of the cleaner requests) there are other searches that speak of other stories, of other women, like me, who are not only in need of information, but also of reassurance and connection. Several of my posts deal with my struggles with breastfeeding and self image, my ambivalence towards to Dr. Sears, our familial trials with C.I.O., and it is these posts which repeatedly attract readers who find me through a google search, and who have paged through screen after screen of results before landing on one of my pieces.
As Mad Hatter Mommy put it so perfectly a few months ago, “the parenting blogosphere is big. It’s messy. It’s unwieldy.” On her own post over breastfeeding, she writes:
"I have often said that if I could save one woman even one of the tears I shed over breastfeeding then the absolute hell that I went through would be worth it. I don't know if the women who find my post find help. I hope they find solace. What I hope most of all, though, is that they find more relevant search results than Google is likely giving them. I know how much Google search hits lack relevance in this instance because I was that desperate, searching mom just two short years ago."
When we write posts about our experiences with parenting—mess and all—we provide something that the standard parenting sites to not. Light Iris, for understandable reasons, directs users first to those standard sites—and even in this, it is far superior to Google as a search tool for parents. But also among the results, users can begin to locate the voices of bloggers who might provide that solace that Mad so eloquently describes.
Don’t get me wrong, Light Iris is *not* able to do the deep mining of the parenting blogosphere that I (and Mad, among others) would like to see eventually, but I see clues that its creators are working towards that end. Right now quite a few blogs are showing up via the regular search, but the site’s blog-specific search produces very thin results. But this can change as content developers like many of us take the steps to submit our sites, as invited. (And this overall omission is partly down to us bloggers and our resistance to tagging, and our constant use of colloquialisms. For instance, my breastfeeding posts rarely use the “proper” terminology—instead they are littered with references to The Lactator, boobs and tits. I am not about to change that (thank you) but I could at least employ a few more standardized metatags so some poor soul with nipple thrush can feel someone shares her pain).
Before I conclude, I do have a few comments on the design of the site. I’ll admit, when I first entered the site’s URL, I was put off by a number of design elements, first and foremost a flash-animated splash page with no “Skip” function. (Tut Tut). While I understand that the splash works to “brand” the product, I do know that usability studies show that splash pages annoy the crap out of most users—including this one--especially if you are trying to do something simple and fast. Light Iris is not selling me an “experience” or “life choice,” so I strongly recommend skipping the flash splash.
I have to also say that apart from the flash, I was initially put off by the liberal use of pink (and hard to read) font, and the soft, fuzzy, slightly hallmarky and inspirational feel it emanates. Star bursts for “New Moms. Unique Needs” and such. A little too cutesy and even preteen for my tastes, but certainly not annoying enough to stop me from using the site.
On the other hand, I appreciated that the interface, a la Google, is stripped down and uncluttered. This was Google’s strength, after all, years back when the standard search interface was crammed with text and browse functions (remember Lycos and Excite?). Light Iris retains the Google feel, but makes the site different enough conceptually to reassure users that this is something new.
I am extremely impressed with what Light Iris accomplishes, and realize—as a metadata expert--that the “behind the scenes” work going into this tool is no mean feat. (And I’d really like to know how they do it!) Since I started using Light Iris a week ago, I have been surprised how often I have already used it for my personal needs. Overall, it is an excellent tool, worthy of much attention and investment on the part of people like us who want to provide other voices and perspectives on the experience of parenting.
This review was part of a Parent Blogger's Network campaign. Interested in going to BlogHer but wondering how to afford the registration? Check out the PBN's Blog Blast Contest, enter, and they, along with Light Iris, might just pick up that tab for you.