Search terms are like keys to documents or to any other type of content. In our days, not only the volume of available documents is increasing rapidly, but also the size of the keychain is growing.
Before we start to discuss how to organize/index the documents themselves, we should first talk about methods to organize the keys.
Take a look at these three approaches:
On the left-hand side you can see a nice example of implicit semantics. The old receptionist knows exactly which key fits into which lock. This knowledge is implicit and can be remembered by the shapes of the keys. Before the old receptionist has retired and the knowledge would have gone, labels have been attached to every key. The semantics of the keys has become more explicit, but this is still quite ambiguous (as visualised in the center column). There is no index of all the labels and colours being used, neither an explicit methodology how new keys should be labeled. As the hotel grows, the labeling system becomes quickly a mess. On the right-hand side the solution for this problem is offered: Not only the semantics of the keys becomes more explicit, but also the semantics of the semantics. For instance, the position of a key represents the position of the room, which can be unlocked by this. The number of the row of the key cabinet represents the storey of the room being unlocked, etc.
This methodology in order to organise keys helps to orientate and to remember; it can be explained with low effort to any new receptionist and it can be scaled-up in case your hotel should grow in the next few years.
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.