You may have been been asking yourselves "Why hasn't Alan H. posted lately?" (or perhaps you haven't, but let me preserve some of my ego). The summer & September have been a very busy time for me, and a big part of my work has been building parts of the new website that take advantage of our Endeca search technology.
This post previews some of the work we're doing to improve access to newly-added library collection items (one of the biggest feature requests of the existing website). Some of this is a bit technical, but I've tried to emphasize the practical results here.
More information on our new faceted search technology is in the posts here and here, but the short version is that our new site will have a much more robust search for nearly everything the library does--not just collections like books and DVDs, but also our programs, locations, blog content, etc.
The search is also capable of some sophisticated filtering by many different possible fields. One of the fields now available is the date an item was added to our collection, which is the most important building block of our redesigned newest titles section.
Currently, the Our Newest Titles list is generated on the 15th of each month for some popular categories of items. It's a frequently used section of the site and we get a lot of feedback about it from you. We commonly hear that:
- The period covered by these lists is unclear
- The lists are often very long and not sortable, so browsing them is difficult
- It's not possible to see lists of new items for previous months
We agree with all of this, so I'm glad to say that our new design can address all these points. Here's a few screenshots (these are, obviously, not final designs):
Period of Time Covered
Period of time covered is (hopefully) clear. The list also generated
at the time the page is requested, rather than as part of a monthly
report--so they can change from day to day as new items are added.
Currently sortable (ascending or descending) by title and author. It's possible for us to add other sorts as well if they seem useful, as the new site's framework is very modular.
Back In Time
Go back a month:
Or a year (past a certain point, these probably stop being "new items", but hey, why not?):
Here's some (large) screenshots showing more of the new items display in action, click to view in full size:
The Bigger PictureMany of our choices about underlying technology and design for the new website have been influenced by the thoughts of people like Daniel Burka, designer of Digg, Firefox and many other great web based technology, (the link goes to a long presentation he gave last year at the Future of Web Design conference). After site launch we want to continue to improve the site in regular ways based on user feedback. So our data, our faceted search engine and our site technologies are all quite flexible.
Most of my work has taken place on the "top" layer of the site building pages like the New Items display pages that provide various views of our data. This has been done mostly through component reuse--for example, the Sort feature on the page is a reusable chunk of code that can be placed anywhere on the site and customized, but largely figures out how it should be behaving based on the page context it's appearing in.
What this means in a practical sense (what most of you probably care about) is that our turnaround time on new features and site improvements should be quicker after our new site launch. Eventually we envision things like user-customizable New Items page (keep personalized track of genres, authors, subjects etc that interest you) or other remixings.
There will probably be some changes to the revised New Items pages before (and after) our launch, based on testing and user feedback. Some of our design choices are influenced by what we know about how you use the current Our Newest Titles page and how you've told us you'd like it to be better. But we're aware usage may change on the new site because the new search has many more features than our current one. So we'll be listening closely during our upcoming public beta and afterwards, and refining the site in the years to come.