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Example: I have a large amount of data, such as a library of blog posts, or a massive amount of contacts, I am thinking that a data table visually would be the best way to display all this data, it is familiar and also accessible.

However in terms or searching/filtering through all this data, I am thinking of having a "Find as you type" quick search input type text at the top of the table which as you type would filter the table below.

Another options is that each row of data is assigned (in my system) to a category, having at the top of the form a list of links of those categories with the number of results beside them such as:

Category (120) Category (34) Category (46)

When the user clicks on these links the table below is filtered.

Also each column heading will have a sort option.

What are you thoughts on this? And are there any other great ways to allow a user to traverse large amounts of data in a data table?

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Question: Are you asking whether a table with either look-ahead filter or category faceting is the best way to present the data, or are you asking more about the implementation and/or interaction model of such a thing? If the latter, is this platform-specific (OS-native, web, etc.) or just in general? ~ yoni –  Yoni Mar 19 '10 at 14:11
    
Sorry, this is for the web, and I am more about the interaction model of such a thing, however suggestions on whether this is the right way to present such data is also welcome. –  Josef Dunne Mar 19 '10 at 15:52
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3 Answers

Here's a really insightful article, aptly titled the "Ultimate guide to table UI patterns":

http://www.jankoatwarpspeed.com/post/2010/02/26/table-ui-patterns.aspx

I hope it goes some way to answering your question!

Chris.

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Excellent article! Thank you for sharing! –  Josef Dunne Mar 19 '10 at 15:55
    
That was a really interesting article and covers lots of useful points. I like the idea of continuious scrolling over paging in particular. I'm not sure tables themselves are the best way of presenting data though, but if you do then this article covers lots of good points. –  JonW Mar 19 '10 at 15:59
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It really depends on the content of the data in question. Chris McQueen above has pointed to a very good article on useful techniques for presenting tabular data which was some really good reading, however I would question the usability of tables as being 'readable, scannable and easily comparable' (as stated in that article). I feel they are quite the opposite. Scanning a large table of data is far from readable and comparable, as you have to read each entry in the tables to know what to compare against, and how trends are forming etc.

Sometimes the best option is to step away from a table, and look for a better way to present the information.

There are lots of fascinating articles on Data Visualization which give a whole different outlook on presenting vast amounts of data in usable, readable and even exciting ways. Check these links for examples :

http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/09/11/25-useful-data-visualization-and-infographics-resources/

http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2009/06/50-great-examples-of-data-visualization/

They types of filters applicable to tables can be just as applicable to other visualizations, so it's just a case of deciding if tables are the way to go. If so then I recommend Chris's link as that discusses the available options rather well. Otherwise, there are many other methods of representing data out there.

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While there are some tasks that are better supported with a table, it is true that we can improve usability in a lot of cases through data visualization. Web-based plug-ins for tables have come a long way in providing reasonably usable means to view and manipulate data without burdening development too much. We need analogous plug-ins for graphic viewing and manipulating data –a box of tools for easily tying data values with graphic dimensions and direct manipulation. Until then, it’ll just be too expensive for most web apps. –  Michael Zuschlag Mar 19 '10 at 17:33
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Great article. Depending on how complex a filter you require, you could also investigate implementing an advanced filter or query builder tool. We use tables extensively in our product and have implemented a query builder tool kind of similar to the WoWHead database.

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