Faceted navigation is the idea that one single navigation scheme is rarely sufficient to accommodate the variety of users, who may come to your site with different purposes, backgrounds, and questions. So rather than providing one scheme, such as organizing by topic, you provide a variety or organization schemes that allow users to navigate the content with different angles.
Think of facets every time you see a diamond ring. A diamond is cut with dozens of different facets that catch the light in unique ways, providing a sense of brilliance. Every perspective provides a different view of the diamond material.
You can do the same with your content. Rather than simply grouping the content by topic, consider these other grouping facets:
Look at a site like Hulu.com compared to the New York Times or Wikipedia. How many facets does each site provide for the user to find the content?
Hulu allows users to choose among the following:
Wikipedia provides the following facets for navigating the content:
The New York Times provides these facets for navigating the content:
When you view a product on Amazon (for example, a microphone), you get a ton of interesting facets for finding more content:
The appropriate facets for a type of content depend on the content. While the navigational facets for Hulu, Wikipedia, NYtimes, and Amazon differ, each may be right for the content of the site.
In compiling these lists, do you see a trend? The traditional topic facets are not the only means of navigation. Most of the facets go beyond basic categories and instead implement a variety of dynamic, reader-based facets.
Perhaps the stale, repulsed attitude any readers feel when opening a help file comes from seeing only one facet in the way the content is organized. Why not provide more in-roads into the help content to accommodate different browsing/searching methods? I may be going out on a generalization limb here, but after looking at the facets for Hulu, Wikipedia, Nytimes, and Amazon, I'm starting to wonder if their site popularity does not just come from the quality of content on their site, but from the findability that comes from this multi-faceted navigation into and within the content.
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