The FLAMENCO project (FLexible information Access using MEtadata in Novel Combinations) is exploring a new method for searching large online collections. Our goal is to design a search interface that supports task-oriented search and offers users a "browsing the shelves" experience. The Flamenco interface: integrates search and browsing; uses query previews to guide users; dynamically presents metadata to organize the search results and suggest next steps; and offers multiple methods for expanding and refining a search.
We have conducted a series of usability studies, which have helped refine the interface design and demonstrated that users strongly prefer the metadata-based approach over a baseline, Google-style image search interface.
Our methods and tools may be applied to any collection of images or text documents that have been classified using faceted metadata. So far we have applied this approach to: architecture images, plant/animal images, fine arts images, Epinions product information, a portion of MEDLINE medical texts, and to OCR'd tobacco industry documents.
The FLAMENCO group is currently developing methods to optimize the system's speed, offer users search history and personalization features, and enable the addition and classification of new items in a collection.
Figure 1: The Flamenco image browser. Categories available within the current result set are displayed on the left. This image set is constrained by location and structure type, and grouped by style.
Figure 2: Search results for "garden." The top portion of the screen is devoted to presenting the categories that produced the result set displayed on the lower portion of the screen. Users have the option of disambiguating their text query, or exploring all the results that contain their search term.
Figure 3: View of an individual item, with contextualized links for expanding the query in several conceptual directions, to see all "entrance spaces" or all "opera houses," or, more broadly, all buildings related to the "performing arts."