Faceted Search: An Interview with Tito Sierra

I met Tito Sierra at the IA Summit in Miami, and we talked soon afterwards about his experiences with faceted search. Previously at Amazon.com, Tito has spent the past few years at NCSU Libraries, working with a great team to transform the library catalog and identify best practices for search design.

NCSU Library Catalog

In addition to sharing lessons learned via Endeca at the NCSU Libraries, they've extended their successful model to the Triangle Research Libraries, and created a research testbed for faceted search and navigation.

Highlights (notes not quotes) from my conversation with Tito include:

  • We went overboard at first by exposing twelve facets. Our studies showed users suffering from "facet fatique." The new design has a smaller facet footprint, and we removed the prominent LCC browser.
  • We're also employing collapsible facets, quickfilter checkboxes, and stacking breadcrumbs to use space wisely.
  • Facets are ordered by frequency of use (e.g., subjects are most popular) and grouped by type (e.g., exploratory versus known item search).
  • We've created virtual hierarchies (e.g., formats under Videos and DVDs).
  • We've designed "facet triggers." For instance, upon selecting an institution (e.g., Duke), users are shown individual libraries (e.g., Law).

I also asked Tito about the future of search. As massive digitization projects (e.g., Google, OCA) mature, he's excited by the prospect of discovery interfaces that leverage both algorithms and structured metadata. Tito also sees potential in personal search and the use of past queries to inform future results.

Finally, Tito is committed to advancing our shared understanding of search. His testbed is designed to make it easy for researchers to experiment with and gather data on a variety of faceted search and navigation interfaces. If you're interested in learning more, please contact Tito.

Strange Connections

Check out The Noisy Channel by Daniel Tunkelang, chief scientist at Endeca.

Karl Fast told me about Evernote. Ready to build a search engine for your life?