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25 Facets for Navigation [Organizing Content 5]

Series: Findability / organizing content

by Tom Johnson on May 17, 2010
categories: technical-writing

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:

  • Role
  • time
  • tab
  • process
  • status
  • importance
  • index keyword
  • issue
  • glossary
  • sequence -- what are the next steps after you complete this topic?
  • most popular
  • recently added
  • highest rated
  • most searched for
  • most relevant topics for X group
  • features coming soon
  • personalized display
  • breaking news
  • organize by space -- click hotspot of image you want to know more about
  • topics not in the printed manual
  • most emailed
  • today's issues
  • latest posts
  • user-contributed topics
  • by condition/problem (latency, timed out)
  • topic list, A to Z
  • Best practices
  • tips and tricks
  • site map, list
  • by language
  • related topics by keyword
  • did you know?...
  • categories
  • today's features
  • random article
  • recently updated article

Look at a site like 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:

  • Featured content in the gallery
  • Channels
  • Most Popular
  • Recently Added
  • Collections
  • Trailers
  • Spotlights
  • TV
  • Movies
  • Search

Wikipedia provides the following facets for navigating the content:

  • Featured content
  • Current events
  • Random article
  • Today's Featured Article
  • In the News
  • On this day
  • Today's featured picture
  • Categories
  • Index

The New York Times provides these facets for navigating the content:

  • Today's Paper
  • Video
  • Most Popular
  • Times Topics (like an index)
  • Categories
  • Most E-mailed
  • Most Blogged
  • Most Viewed
  • Most Searched
  • What We're Reading
  • Reader's Recommendations
  • Most Recent

When you view a product on Amazon (for example, a microphone), you get a ton of interesting facets for finding more content:

  • Customers Viewing This Page May Be Interested in These Sponsored Links
  • What Do Customers Ultimately Buy After Viewing This Item?
  • Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought
  • Tags Customers Associate with This Product
  • Customer Reviews
  • Customer Discussions
  • Look for Similar Items by Category
  • Your Recent History

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.

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

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