FCO : Missing abroad
A deaf ear to common usage blights a directory search.
The UK government’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) handicaps an important search tool by inflexible use of its own naming conventions.
The FCO provides a ‘Travel advice by country’ service in its Travelling & Living Overseas section. The landing page is headed by a ‘Search for a country’ field; typing in the name of a country, and clicking ‘Go’ launches the relevant information page. However, several large countries return the error message ‘We cannot find the country you entered’: these include Russia, North Korea, South Korea and Myanmar as well as US and USA. The tool does recognise: ‘Russian Federation’, ‘Korea, DPR (North Korea)’, ‘Korea (Republic of)’, ‘Burma’ and ‘United States’ (but not ‘United States of America’).
Further down the page are alternate routes to the information: an interactive countries-by-region map, which leads to regional lists of countries with their own (equally flawed) version of the search tool, and an alphabetical index. These lists use the search-friendly forms of country names.
The FCO goes to commendable lengths to provide alternate routes into its travel advice directory: keyword search, alphabetical index and interactive quick finder. And just as well it does given the idiosyncratic performance of the keyword search. The problem for would-be users is that it – and the alternatives – are built around the FCO’s naming conventions (jargon in other contexts). These may be diplomatically correct but have no truck with common usage: ‘You say Russia, we say Russian Federation’ etc. This reaches a bizarre nadir when even ‘Korea DPR (North Korea)’ returns the not-found message (no comma, not recognised).
Given the importance of the information to those seeking it, they may persist long enough to pick up the trail, but only at the cost of frustration and not a little bemusement. Some may conclude the service is not working and head off to the Contact Us page and on to the telephone helpline. Perhaps the FCO is prevented from being too colloquial in its naming of countries, but a touch of flexibility allowing the search tool to accommodate commonly-used alternatives to its nomenclature would surely help make this particular government service more approachable.http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travelling-and-living-overseas/travel-advice-by-country/
First published on 28 July, 2009