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Number 12 (3/2003)

Madiera - a Web Portal for Social Scientists

Taina Jääskeläinen | Maria Forsman | Jouni Sivonen    

The three-year Madiera project began in December 2002. Data archives from seven European countries participate in the project. The overall goal is to develop an effective web-based interface enabling users to search for social science data from different countries. FSD participates actively in the planning of dissemination work and in the development and translation of the multilingual thesaurus ELSST into Finnish.

Madiera (Multilingual Access to Data Infrastructures of the European Research Area) partners include British, Norwegian, Finnish, Danish, Swiss, German and Greek data archives.

What do users require?

Madiera interface aims to be as user-friendly as possible. Systematic user analysis was carried out in order to study users' work practices and their requirements for the portal. 14 researchers from different countries were interviewed. On the basis of the analysis three user profiles were outlined: the young researcher, the ICT-curious researcher and the traditional researcher. Results of the analysis will be utilized in the development of the web service architecture.

Respondents in the user analysis thought that, in addition to the data itself, the portal should include specific information on the methods and purposes of the data collection and variable construction. Links to web publications based on the data sets were considered important. Respondents hoped that the portal would promote researcher networks and international mobility. One Finnish respondent hoped for a learning and teaching resource for quantitative methods, rather like FSD's 'Research Methods Web Resource (MOTV)'.

Researchers are generally suffering from information overload and results indicate that the layout of the portal should be simple and easy to understand. Content should be structured either by theme or by geographical location and should be easy to access. Results also indicate that that the portal should support comparative research.

Respondents welcomed the idea of the multilingual thesaurus even though some were doubtful about the translation process: could exact equivalences in different languages be found for every concept. Others were fascinated by the idea that it would be easier to access material which is not in English.

Respondents estimated that the portal would certainly be useful for teaching/educational purposes. They stated that students should be taken into account as potential users.

Geographic searching

The Madiera portal will support geographic searching, enabling information retrieval of data with the help of, for example, electronic maps. So far the project has charted what kind of possibilities there are for geographic searching and what this would mean for data documentation. Geographic metadata may be in form of geographic names, postal codes, geographic coordinates etc.


The Madiera portal will use Nesstar as its search engine. A new web based prototype Nesstar Light, used in Internet Explorer, is in testing stage. Nesstar will offer functional data searching and browsing and simple statistical analysis on the web. In future, registered users can download data from the web to their own desktops.

How will researchers find out about Madiera?

The Madiera portal will offer new possibilities to European social scientists. Researchers will hopefully both use the portal and deposit data with their national data archive. Researchers from different countries would then be able to access the data through the portal.

FSD is the partner responsible for the dissemination planning. CESSDA (Council of European Social Science Data Archives) and a local contact person network will have a prominent role in the dissemination work. The goals of Madiera include the promotion of researcher networks, the dissemination of research findings and international co-operation. At least young researchers will benefit from these goals.

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