GAINESVILLE — Extension services primarily share scientific knowledge and expertise with the public. On the cutting edge back in 1996, UF/IFAS Extension launched a website to host a growing peer-reviewed fact sheet collection.
For most of the website’s existence, it was called EDIS, or the Electronic Data Information Source. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the site, the service just relaunched with a fresh look, even more public-friendly features and a new name: Ask IFAS, Powered by EDIS. The former URL will remain valid as a new web address, ask.ifas.ufl.edu, goes live.
“Over 80% of our website traffic currently comes from web searches, so many people probably don’t realize they’ve already tapped into UF/IFAS expertise,” said Diana Hagan, library coordinator for EDIS. “If someone is searching for a particular Florida bug or bird or plant, their search will often lead them to the EDIS website. With the rename to ‘Ask IFAS,’ plus all the new features, we hope to be more intentional and create a connection with our visitors. As the new platform evolves, our goal will remain the same: to help people find answers to their questions.”
The information resource touches as many areas as UF/IFAS does. It currently contains just over 6,800 documents on 3,400 topics, ranging from commercial agriculture to the home landscape, youth development to family needs. In 2020, these articles attracted 17.5 million pageviews.
“These publications are another opportunity for our specialists and county faculty to connect with the clientele, written in a communication style that is appropriate to the audience,” said Saqib Mukhtar, associate dean of agriculture and natural resources for UF/IFAS Extension. “The information is research-based, and each manuscript goes through a true blind review of internal and external peers to ensure its integrity and rigor. Each publication goes through yet another review process every three years to confirm the recommendations are still valid and the information as up-to-date as possible.”
In further service to a diverse Florida population, Mukhtar adds, a number of documents have been translated into Spanish and a few in Haitian Creole. He said the goal is to continue to expand offerings in these languages as well as others.
The relaunch of this service represents a long journey from its origins. UF/IFAS Extension fact sheets have been around for as long as Extension has been in Florida. For many years, fact sheets were printed at the University of Florida campus in Gainesville and then delivered to the 67 county Extension offices around the state. In 1989, a CD-ROM series known as the Florida Agricultural Information Retrieval System (FAIRS) expanded the educational material offerings. FAIRS content was made available on a young World Wide Web in 1996, on a website that later took on the EDIS moniker.
The newest iteration of the website acknowledges the EDIS system and history behind the information, while putting the user experience front and center. One highlight is the improved functionality on the mobile version of the website.
“It’s the same great, fact-based information, just presented in a new way,” Hagan said, adding that this is phase one of the relaunch. More improvements are expected to launch in the fall.