I covered the announcement of the People's Network Online Enquiry Service last year, and, as of last week, the 'Enquire' service is operational. Here is the press release about the launch from the Museums Libraries and Archives Council, wherein the Chief Executive says "Enquire is designed to get answers to people wherever they are, night and day. It is a route to the librarian's expertise without ever crossing the library threshold."
I haven't tried the service, but Louise Ferguson has, and humorously gives it short shrift. As she says the main enquiry page is "completely lacking in context", and gives no cues about what sort of questions you can ask, who you'll be asking and so on. It's by no means immediately obvious to users that the service operates 'live': that is, if someone is available to deal with your question on the spot, a new browser will open with a live chat session. Only fairly technically savvy users would pick that up from the tips page.
It's a staple of user-centred design to define clearly the 'context of use' (as enshrined in International Standards), which states who the target users will be, where and how they'll be using the service, and what they'll be trying to do with it. It would be interesting to see a description of the expected context of use for this service… As it stands, I'd imagine that many of the target users would have to go into a library and ask a member of staff to get sufficient guidance to get the most out of the service.
Update, 19 October 02005: Happily the Enquire service has been significantly re-vamped since the above comments were written — hence the links above no longer work. The home page has prominent links to pages providing context such as 'where should I start?' and 'what's this site for?', and the new enquire page has clearer information about the 'chat' nature of the service. It's clear, however, that the site hasn't been tested on a Safari browser (with Mac OS X v10.2.8), since many pages are illegible when viewed with it.
The Enquire service was formally launched today (yes, again, five months after the original launch referred to above) — see press release.Posted by David Jennings in section(s) Human-Computer Interaction on 27 May 02005 | TrackBack