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I am building a photo hosting/sharing website.

In this website there are albums, slide shows and stories 'blog posts that contain photos from the website'.

Should I ask the user to select the search area before searching?
For example to select from a drop down to search in just albums.

Or should I let the user search for all? 'the same as youtube for example is doing, in youtube the user search then he can filter to see just channels, play lists,...'

And if search for all is better, do you have ideas about the search result page look?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Search should cover all the areas, but clearly and simply segregate results for Albums, Slide shows, Blog posts.

Don't make the user think about whether they need to search for one particular channel or all channels or anything else - just do it.

I know websites like Amazon for example allow you to choose from a drop down, but the difference is that on Amazon I might be searching for a book or I might be searching for a toy. Therefore it is (generally) clear which department I want. (In any case the default is all departments, and most people will stick with that).

However, here you are always searching for a single thing - a photo, and you have no idea which 'department' you might find that photo.

The detail of 'how it looks' is up to you and the design of the rest of your website. If the user is likely to end up with many results, then consider the ability to filter the results once shown - but you don't need to provide that filter up front.

Information Architecture for the World Wide Web by Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld says:

...look for opportunities to educate users when they’re ready to learn. The best time to do this is after the initial search has been executed and the user reaches a point of indecision or frustration. The initial hope that the first try would retrieve exactly what they were looking for has now faded. And when users are ready to revise their searches, they’ll want to know how they can make those revisions.

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I agree with this response, the user shouldn't feel burdened but search functionality. I'd look at Getty Images - they use a simple search with a faceted filter set to narrow the result set. This requires a well structured taxonomy, so some form of moderated tagging workflow would have to be employed. –  Jon Fukuda Jan 4 '12 at 20:15

In "Search User Interfaces" book by Marti A. Hearst (can be read online) considers that Show Search Results Immediately is one of the main principles for search design:

Many experimental systems make the mistake of requiring the user to look at large amounts of helper information, such as query refinement suggestions or category labels, before viewing results directly.

According to these principles an option is to:

  1. Use a single search box: search is simplified (don't make the user think).
  2. Present all kinds of results grouped by category: you can find an interesting story even if you thought only albums could be found.
  3. Allow then to filter for a specific content: if the user is only interested in a specific kind of content, remove the clutter.

I have made a quick sketch of the idea:

enter image description here

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+1 for the awesome sketch –  matthew.perron Jan 9 '12 at 19:58

I work on a similar photo sharing website. We allow the user to select an area (images, members, events, news etc) in the search form, but the results are then returned in a tabbed interface so the user is still free to jump between the results for each area. The tabs allow us to present the results of each area slightly differently (events are listed with dates/times/locations etc) and also to display relevant advanced search criteria and filters.

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