in Controlled Vocabulary

Faceted Metadata and Choosing the Right User Interface

Tanya’s revealing of her technique for setting facets for her blog was the catalyst that reminded me of a comment Peterme made regarding facets: ‘The system can never know which particular strategy a given user wants to employ — so why not avail them of them all?‘ I don’t think he really means all facets we could imagine, I assume he means all facets that correspond to the most important metadata fields for a type of information.

I’m thinking about this because I’m working on a system that stores the information using a number of facets, but which is presented with a hierarchical browsing user interface: it displays information pre-filtered by a couple facets, and as you select items it displays more items further filtered by the facet you selected. I didn’t design it, but I must complement those who did as it probably (usability testing will confirm this) maps to the mental model of the user. And yet the faceted scheme on the back end keeps the data set flexible and available to display using alternate schemes.

And I mention this for two reasons: One, I’ve noticed a tendency to want to use every facet we have in the user interface instead of relying on our knowledge of users to serve them only the facets that are useful without extra clutter. Second, even experienced IAs want to literally represent the back end structure in the user interface. I see this especially with semantic networks of information stored as nodes and connections, where people want to rely on Thinkmap like interfaces. The information model just might be a better way to store and manage information that, in user interface form, corresponds to user’s built-in understanding of categories.

(Out of courtesy I should mention this is not a criticism of either person or site mentioned above, they were just catalysts.)