March 29th, 2009

Navigation modes

Together with Sebastian Ferré, I defined and illustrated some common navigation modes in faceted search and web applications dealing with metadata+resources in general for an upcoming publication. I am here sharing the gist of it already, as I believe these could be interesting for many of you.

So, here they are. They all refer to situations where there is a set of resources which can be filtered according to different criteria.


The most common pattern: Given a set of resources, select a subset by  adding an additional (AND-connected) filter criterion.

All photos -> zoom in (Europe) -> photos taken in Europe
Photos taken in Europe -> zoom-in (Cities) -> photos taken in Europe AND taken in cities


The complementary pattern: Given a filtered view, select a superset by either

  • Removing a (AND-connected) filter

    Photos taken in Europe AND taken in cities -> zoom out (cities) -> photos taken in Europe
  • or: Adding a OR-connected filter

    Photos taken in Europe -> zoom–out-OR (Africa) -> photos taken in Europe OR Africa
  • or: Replacing a filter with a more general version

    Photos taken in Germany -> zoom–out-UP (Germany) -> photos taken in Europe

In either way, you end up with a more general query, that yields at least all of the original results, and usually more.


Zoom-in and zoom-out can be combined into a shift navigation mode. Here, one part of the filters is replaced by a concept that is neither more general nor more specific than the original one.

Photos taken in Germany -> shift (France) -> photos taken in France


Another combination of zoom-in and zoom-out is the pivot navigation. It is very common in web applications like e.g. Given a filter setting and its results, you can jump to a fresh query consisting only of one of the occurring metadata terms.

Photos taken in Germany -> pivot (Moritz) -> photos taken by Moritz

This is often accomplished by adding clickable links to the results’ metadata items.

Querying by examples

This corresponds to a pivot on a number of resources and metadata fields at the same time. The most specific concepts that apply to a whole item selection are collected and used in a new query.

Clinton, Bush, Obama -> query by examples -> American presidents

Obviously, the generalization capabilities here depend a lot on the metadata structure. In some database, the example above might generalize to “persons” or “males”, in others to “Male american presidents after 1980”.

Related set

Demonstrated in parallax and humboldt, this navigation mode follows the same metadata link on the whole result set to construct a new one.

Photos taken in Europe -> related set (photographer) -> Photographers of photos taken in Europe

I realize this is quite dry material and could use some illustrations, examples, references. Nevertheless, I hope it spawns some new thoughts in those of you thinking about search and browsing in web applications!

One Response to 'Navigation modes'

Subscribe to comments with RSS

  1. R. Mullen
    May 4th, 2009 at 11:03 pm

    This is an EXTREMELY helpful article as I think about how to describe how to drill down through legal data, so thank you!