Gone But Not Forgotten

Hello, you've landed on DATA eh? - Open Data Toronto's original blog space for data discussions. This is not an active blog at the moment but legacy posts are still here. Have a read ... you can still provide comments.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Better search!!!

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.

OK, so I've been promising to share some of what we are thinking of doing to make the site better.  Let's start with search.  Here's a mock up-ed visual on the deets:

You can do the proverbial "click on the pic" to get a larger view - but you knew that didn't you? 

Search Results page
  • Display Best results prominently at the top. 
  • Display Images when appropriate (e.g. photo of the Councilor or a small map) - inserted beside results
  • Sorting results by Relevance or by Date
  • Hide Summaries
  • Narrow down results by using filters from the drop-down
  • Scan results by Content Type (FAQ, News etc) 
  • See "more or less" results per page 
  • Suggested Topics to give you quick access to relevant content based on your searched criteria
  • Ability to Save your Searches 
  • Ability to Subscribe to updates for any Search query  
Want we want to know:
Are all of these features useful to you or do you tend to just go back into the search box if you want to get more?  We're wanting to know about your behaviour?  Anything else you'd like to suggest? Tell us anything and everything about your needs for search. 

Oh, and, "Bend your knees" ...
Our product is Google by the way. One thing I'd like to add on a personal note.  I don't want to stereo type  but, as a male, I have a tendency when opening the fridge at home to not really poke around.  I seem to just shout out: "I can't find it".  My wife usually says: "Did you bend your knees and look?"  I have to admit - if I did that I would probably find the ketchup or whatever.  Same with web search.  I do believe users have to do some of the work ultimately.

If I'm wrong here ... you will surely correct me.

Meantime, pass the ketchup!

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Post a comment ...


Sacha Chua said...

Have you thought about showing the different filtering categories as links instead of as a drop-down? Fewer clicks, more up-front information, and more curiosity too. Think Amazon or Ebay's faceted search along the sidebar...

(Also... why Blogger and not Wordpress? Just curious. =) Commenting takes more clicks on Blogger because of the need to choose profiles, etc.)

(And another idea: go out there, comment on, link to, and reflect on what other bloggers are posting! =) Be part of the bigger conversation. )

Keith from the TO web re:Brand team said...

Thanks for dropping by Sacha. I've started a poll to see what users may think of filtering categories - one way or the other - on links or drop downs. To me, whatever is the cleanest but, then, remember, I can't find the ketchup.

We chose Blogger for the moment over wordpress as we felt we had a bit more flex while on an outside server with Blogger.

I've been on several other blogs usually in response to toronto.ca references. If anyone has some spaces they feel I (or "we")should be sourcing, why not give us a note right here?

JS said...

I agree there's opportunity for the City to improve using faceted search, possibly without the drop down list. I prefer to see groupings of search results immediately. This makes it easier to see different ways of filtering and exploring the information.

It will be interesting to explore faceted search in combination with structured categories as well as user generated tags. I really like what amazon has done in this regard.

Amy Brown said...

@TOWebRebrand sent me here after I mentioned that I find the Toronto Fun guide hard to navigate.

If you're a parent who signs your kids up for Toronto programs you know how hard and nerve-wracking it is (because space is almost always limited) to sign up for programs, even if you use the paper fun guide. Unfortunately the online Fun Guide does nothing to make the process easier, because it's just PDFs of the paper guides. That's a real pity, because it's exactly the kind of data which could be well handled with a database and a good search UI.

Let me give an example of how the process of searching for a program happens and you'll see how much it could be improved.

Say I want to sign my kids up for swimming lessons. First I have to access four PDF files - two files which list the facilities near me, and two files which list available courses. (I live near the boundary of two different Fun Guides) I then have to switch between the four files to find classes for my girls (two different ages, so two different swimming levels) which are at the same time at the same facility, the whole time keeping track of which file I'm looking at. The type in the Fun Guide PDFs is tiny, so I need to zoom in and scroll around, and I have to make sure I'm looking at the correct session since each Fun Guide covers two session. Once I find classes which match I have to copy down the class number so I can search for it in the online registration (which opens a million new windows) and hope the classes have space available.

All the program data should be in a searchable database and I should be able to search by class, level, time of day, availability, etc. It would be great if you could "favourite" or "wishlist" or otherwise mark a class which looks good so you can then compare a few classes, because it turns into quite a feat of juggling.

The specific question I had was when registration starts, which was available but not any of the places I looked for it. The whole Fun Guide section just reeks of shovelware. Since they're discontinuing delivery of paper Fun Guides to houses I hope you're also planning a major overhaul of the online system.

Thanks for listening! I'm @amyrhoda on Twitter if you want more information.