Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Some background on the "new" MassLandRecords

The new version of MassLandRecords moved into the primary position on October 1 - you can still opt into the old version at least until January 1, 2012.  As everyone gets used to the new application, I thought some background of how the new version came about might be of interest to readers:

In the summer of 2002, Middlesex North became the first registry of deeds in Massachusetts to install the ACS computer system.  Employees and customers quickly became comfortable with the new system which was known as 20/20.  Other registries followed with ACS installations at regular intervals.  MassLandRecords soon followed, hosted first by ACS but then (and now) by the Secretary of State’s office. 

While customers appreciated the 24/7 web access to registry records provided by MassLandRecords, many questioned why the web site did not more closely resemble the more user-friendly 20/20 search application.  I had to agree.

One of the biggest differences between 20/20 and the MassLandRecords was the way search results were returned.  A search of JOHN SMITH on 20/20 would yield an alphabetized list of all variations of that name.  You could scroll down through the entire set of results or, by clicking on the tip of one of the columns, resort the data by document type, address, or any other variable.  By clicking on a line of data, the document image was fully visible in an adjoining window. 

On MassLandRecords, the same search yielded only a single entry for each variant of the name (SMITH, JOHN A; SMITH, JOHN JR; etc) with a number to the right indicating how many separate documents contained that particular variant of the name.  Clicking on the JOHN A line opened all of the entries containing the name JOHN A SMITH.  To view entries for JOHN SMITH JR required you to reverse course and do the same process over again.  Expanding the entries to display additional data required more clicks and there was no ability to re-sort the results of a particular search.

On January 25, 2007, the ACS Users Group which consists of representatives of all registries of deeds in the Commonwealth that use the ACS computer system, met in Worcester to recommend changes to MassLandRecords.  After a series of meetings throughout 2007, the group requested that the website’s functionality be made to mirror that of the 20/20 search system used in the registries.

That was not the only change requested.  Registry users can be divided into two categories: “real estate professionals” such as lawyers, paralegals, brokers, appraisers and others who deal with real estate for a living; and “casual users” – a home owner looking for a copy of her deed, a genealogist researching the history of a residence, or anyone else who uses MassLandRecords once or occasionally.  Those of us who field phone calls from casual users know that a major problem for this class is over populating the search screen.  Confronted with the standard MassLandRecords search screen, the casual user felt a need to enter something in every available field of the query.  In doing so, the query was made too restrictive and eliminated the very document the user was looking for. 

To cut down on this over population problem, the ACS Users Group also asked that a new version of MassLandRecords would default to a “basic” search screen that would only have fields for limited information such as first and last name, but that an “advanced” search function containing all the traditional query fields be only one click away for professional users of the website.  Since the number of occasional users who visit the site dwarfs the number of professionals, the Users Group concluded a two-tiered basic and advanced search architecture was an important modification.

No comments: