For most of us when we think about search we think about this: An empty box with a little magnifier icon. You type something into it, hit Enter and hope you find what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for information on the web, it works great most of the time. But in situations involving searching through a lot of data for specific things, there is another way to search that works better. This is known as ‘faceted’ or filtered search. Let’s take a look at what this is, how it works, and how it makes the life of a content manager a lot easier.
The most common example of faceted search is found on Amazon. You start with an empty search box and type something about the product you’re looking for like ‘Espresso Machine’. The first facet you see is the drop-down menu that helps you define where on Amazon your product might be. So if you choose the Espresso Machine In Home and Kitchen option, Amazon knows you’re not looking for a $10,000 commercial machine and takes you to a page for consumer machines.
This is where faceted search really makes a difference. Home espresso machines are available in a huge range of prices, capabilities, brands, etc. So Amazon offers you a selection of filters to fine tune your search. You can pick a price range, a brand, or see machines based on customer reviews. Each selection you make narrows your choices until you have created a page of machines tailored to your requirements. That’s faceted search.
Faceted Search In easyDITA
When you create content in easyDITA, it is tagged with various metadata based on categories like Author, Subject, Topic Type (Concept, Reference, Task. etc.), Product, etc. This metadata enables the DITA Component Content Management System (CCMS) to create a faceted search with each metadata tag operating as a filter. Content managers can quickly find all the content in the system that fits the filters they have selected. And this, in turn, makes the use and reuse of that content much faster and easier.
Faceted Search and Topic-based Authoring
When you work in easyDITA, you don’t create large documents, you create topics that contain conceptual, procedural, or reference content. You can assemble those topics into containers with a specific purpose- like an owner’s manual or a tutorial. That content can also be reassembled into other things. Using a faceted search, you can find and grab a how-to procedure topic that can be added to a Knowledge Base app and used as a contextual Help pop-up. This reuse of content is one the most powerful features of using a structured content solution like a DITA CCMS. And it is enhanced by faceted search.
Why Not Just Use a Google-type Search?
Yes, you could use a search box like Google to search through your documentation to find all the instances of keywords you’ve entered. But you’ll inevitably get pages and pages of results that you have to wade through to find that specific content you need. This is why Amazon takes you to a faceted search as soon as you’ve identified your broad product category. It gives you the ability to tailor your search in a very intuitive manner based on filters. Amazon requires metadata to be defined when a product is added to their database. easyDITA provides pre-configured metadata and custom metadata you can define. Your faceted search in easyDITA is a tool designed to make your content much more findable and easily available for reuse, updates, edits, and more.
Faceted search is one of the key capabilities that makes structured content such an advanced way to work when compared to dealing with unstructured content like Word docs. Imagine trying to find specific content chunks within dozens or even hundreds of Word docs using the general text search tools on your computer. It would be a nightmare. With faceted search in a database of topics, you can not only quickly find that content, you can go directly to it to take whatever action (reuse, edit, update, review, etc.) you need.