I’ve been a fan of the power of faceted navigation since hearing Tom Reamy some years ago at an Enterprise Search Summit. Reamy is known as a “knowledge architect”—he consults with companies and organizations of all kinds on increasing the findability of information in their organizations.
He discussed the recent approach to search that incorporates semantics, taxonomy, and faceted navigation ideas. A facet is an “orthogonal dimension of metadata.” Taxonomy is about “aboutness” and ontology deals with facts and relationships. Other components are software (text analytics, auto-categorization) and people (who do tagging, make suggestions, etc.) For background, see his article in the Enterprise Search Summit Sourcebook, 2008-2009. He gave a quick rundown of the terms.
Facets are not categories—they are types of metadata attributes (categories are what a document is about) A facet has mutual exclusive dimensions—an event is not a person is not a document is not a place—it’s what makes them so powerful). Facets are designed to be used in combination (wine has color, price, location, sentiment). People actually enjoy faceted navigation, according to Tom– it’s simple and you can make choices. The end result is actually an advanced search.
The advantages of faceted navigation:
- More intuitive (easy to guess what’s behind each door)
- Dynamic selection of categories allowed – thus supports multiple perspectives
- Systematic advantages – fewer elements (but it gives the ability to handle compound subjects)
Taxonomies deal with semantics and documents and bring deeper ways to handle content. They work great when combined with facets. When we put it all together—dynamic classification/faceted navigation—dynamic search and browse works better than either one alone (because we can’t predict all the ways people will think and we can’t predict the questions and activities).
He then gave some interesting examples—some good, some not as effective—of faceted navigation from ecommerce sites (wine shop), news media (Reuters, CNNMoney.com, NYTimes), and services. The sites that provided more facet options were generally better. He showed some bad examples where the facets were mixed together, resulting in a chaotic interface. As a good example, he showed Factiva, which combines a taxonomy with facets in its subject keywords. An interactive interface that employs sliders and date ranges is particularly powerful. One interesting point he made is that we really don’t know yet how useful tag clouds and clusters are. He stressed that good information architecture is still the key to developing successful systems—integrated design is essential.
One additional requirement is text analytics software (to extract key elements and provide auto-categorization). He covered much, much more, but this was dense stuff and it was 5 o’clock…if you’re interested, sign up for one of his half-day workshops and watch for his articles in EContent and elsewhere.
Paula J. Hane
News Bureau Chief, Information Today, Inc.