Why mockups are essential for semantic applications design

Applications based on semantic technologies offer new ways to discover, browse and explore information – this is for sure. But how can we (as a semantic web “insider”) explain these potential benefits to a typical end-user, who has never heard anything about “faceted search” before (which doesn´t mean that he wouldn´t love intelligent user interfaces if they were in place)?

The answer are mockups (in a sense of prototyping user interfaces). Although even Google has started recently to implement a little bit semantics by offering auto-complete functionality on google.com (on some local versions like google.at this feature is still not available) most basic concepts for an intelligent search interface are still not common sense.

We are that googlized that nearly none of us can think of different ways of searching for information than Google has offered for many years now: Put a couple of words in a text box, click a button and scroll through a list of headers and abstracts. Repeat that until you´re done. Wow!

Of course, many people get irritated instantly by complex user interfaces like David Huynh´s Freebase Parallax. “That´s only for experts!” is their response. But in a corporate setting complex queries belong to our daily business – they are just not supported by common search engines (only exception are data mining solutions). But that doesn´t necessarily mean that we wouldn´t need it.

Where is the way out of this dilemma?

  • Explain to the end-users how semantic technologies can enhance search & browse experiences
  • Do not use terms like SPARQL or RDF
  • Create a simple mockup to explain it
  • You´re not a designer? Use tools like Balsamiq – Try it now!

Here is an example for a mockup of a semantically enhanced expert finder:

These kind of mockups are essential for any requirements engineering phase in any project where search is a bit more than a text-box, a button and a bunch of documents.

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