Seek, and you will find: Online horticulture portals provide for focused searches that users can trust

Date posted: February 12, 2014

Dr. John Dole came up with the idea for the portals, and Extension IT brought it to life.Dee ShoreDr. John Dole came up with the idea for the portals, and Extension IT brought it to life.

With more than 2 billion websites indexed by popular search engines, the internet can be a daunting place to go to look for trustworthy information. But for growers, researchers, consumers and others interested in horticultural science information, handy new tools that the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences developed help them focus the hunt on reliable, research-based sources.

Through its website at http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/hort_sci/, CALS’ Department of Horticultural Science offers information portals on five topics: vegetables, fruits, ornamentals, weeds and floriculture, or flower production. After someone enters a search term, the portal returns only information from selected information from scientific journals, trade publications and N.C. State University’s website.

The Floriculture InfoSearch (http://floricultureinfosearch.ces.ncsu.edu/) was the first of the portals, and it has an added component: an ever-growing archive of public documents, reports, magazines and other articles dating back to the 1800s. The American Floral Endowment (AFE), an industry nonprofit that funds research and scholarships, funded the archival project.

Dr. John Dole, the department head, explained why having an archive made sense for floriculture.

“In the floricultural industry, we grow many different plants. And some of these cycle through time. What’s new is old, what’s old is new,” said Dole, a floriculture expert. “Right now, for example, hydrangeas are very hot. They were hot many years ago. But much of the information from the last time has disappeared. So this is a way to preserve old literature for use by current researchers, industry and the public.”

The floriculture archive will grow, Dole said, because the department will continue to scan and hold on CALS Extension’s servers trade information and scientific articles no longer available elsewhere.

And as funding becomes available, such archives may be added to the other portals, he said.
Dole conceived of the portals, and North Carolina Cooperative’s Information Technology group – especially Director Rhonda Conlon, Technology Strategist Ray Kimsey and Application Development Specialist Rob Ladd – developed them. Michelle Healey and Brandon Hopper, Horticultural Science staff members, are leading the scanning and posting effort.

Dole calls the project an “extension of Cooperative Extension.”

“A big role for Extension these days is helping consumers and the industry sort through this big mass of stuff that’s on the internet. Before the internet became so important, Extension helped growers and everybody else sort through all of the printed information and the advice coming from salespeople,” he said.

“Extension is still needed to do that, but we also have the internet. Our project is helping people sort through the vast clutter on the internet to get to the information they really need.”

The ability to focus searches on only the most reliable information is making the portals popular, particularly among those involved in horticultural industries, Dole said.

“We are getting really good feedback from the industry,” he said. “They like it because it’s powerful and easy for them to use.”

For example, Ken Altman, the owner of a nursery business with operations in three states and AFE secretary-treasurer, said he’s excited about the N.C. State project because it makes horticultural research “much more accessible and will safeguard the information should journals go out of print or researchers retire.”

As Dole pointed out, “This project, including the AFE archive, will allow everyone to easily find and use the rich trove of great scientific and trade articles published over the years.”

And that’s important, he said, because “information is of no use to anyone if they can’t find it.”

— Dee Shore

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