Is there a working group / user group for users and developers to work together constructively on improvements ?
PLEASE ADD / COMMENT
Outline Requirements Specification for Search Interface
Summary: Users require a mechanism to allow them locate records in the database which match certain information. Often the source information is limited, or may not be entirely accurate, so the mechanism must allow the user to search using only a small set of all the available criteria. The data held in the database is not always accurate, therefore the mechanism must be capable of locating close matches to the criteria and returning the results in a form of presentation that is easy to assimilate to allow the user to make a judgement about which results are likely to be of value. To reduce the quantity of undesirable results, the mechanism must allow the user to choose options to restrict the search by specifying, for example, a record set.
Constraints: This brief does set out to define the database search engine, data storage, or indexing.
The search facility must provide the input mechanism to enable the user to retreive content from the database which matches the criteria entered. The results thus obtained must be displayed in an easily comprehensible format which can be rapidly scanned by eye (Note1) to enable the user to locate the most probable match for the actual target. All results shall be provided with the facility to expand the chosen item to show the entire record to allow the user to verify or exclude a potential match.
Note1: It is entirely feasible for the search and retrieval system to work for visually-impaired users but the interface for such operation would be better defined by those users.
The search criteria shall be the entire set or a subset of all the fields that are attributes of a person record. [Comment: There is actually no reason why the search should be limited to people, although this seems to be the most common practice and is more easily performed since the change to the 'person-centred' system. Nevertheless, searching for a census record by reference number, or a specific address or ship may also be desirable. This might be better implemented using a separate search facility ]
The search limits shall be selected by either: picking from a list of available record sets, with multiple selections allowed, or entering record set identification criteria, which will cause a list of matching record sets to be presented for selection.
Presentation of Search Results
The presentation should make best use of all the available displayable space to present results data. As a general rule of thumb: excluding empty results fields, the maximum amount of space not used for input criteria and results shall be less than 10%. Aesthetic whitespace shall be limited to only that necessary to make the results data easy to read.
The presentation shall show the search criteria and results in distinct sections.
When results are displayed, the presentation shall allow the user to change search criteria and update the results without having to open any other display sections.
The set of results shall be presented in such a form that the use can easily locate and read the most critical data. For example, Name, Age, Date of Birth, Place of Birth, Parents, Siblings, Locality.
The presentation must show the most important data items in close proximity so that user can easily recognise the most probable match. As a guide: Placing name on far left and parents on far right would be an impediment.
The presentation must show the results within the horizontal viewable area. In the event that the user is working with a very small window, then the results presentation shall use common practice to shrink columns and content to fit within the window. In such circumstances, the whole content of any results field shall be presented in a similar form to a popup bubble when the user focuses on the item, thus allowing the user to view all the content when working with small displays.
The presentation must not require the user to scroll horizontally outside the extent of the viewable window when the window is at normal size.
The presentation must show all the available results in pages, the size of which, i.e. results per page, shall be determined by user selection, and pages shall be selectable in accordance with common practice.
Results which do not fit within the page shall be managed by vertical scrolling in accordance with common practice.
The presentation must allow the user to select a result to be expanded into the full record, and to return the point of origin when closing the expanded record.
The presentation must allow the user to select and copy text content from within the results fields. The specific mechanism to allow this is not critical, and may be left to the implementer, however it should not require the user to take extraordinary steps simply to copy some plain text. [ Example: copying and pasting a place name is a lot quicker and easier than typing it, especially if it has a strange spelling ]
Specific Display Sections
Search Criteria Section
The search criteria section shall be located in a column on the left of the display area, top justified. [ Why the left ? because then the criteria are adjacent to the names in the results, not on the opposite side of the display. ]
The search criteria section shall not change location when the user changes field content.
The most commonly used input fields shall be presented by default.
Empty criteria input fields shall be minimized, excepting those above.
The user shall be allowed to expand or minimize input fields.
The search criteria section shall not change location when the user changes the mimized state of input fields.
The expanded/minimized state of the input fields shall be persistent for the duration of the search session.
The search shall be initiated when the user selects a button labelled Search or Update, depending upon whether results are already displayed.
When search criteria are entered or changed, the search results shall not change until the Search/Update button is selected.
Input fields action shall follow common practice with regard to the Enter button i.e. shall complete the action on the selected input field and move to the next open input field.
Content of the input fields shall be editable according to common practice w.r.t. select, cut, paste, insert, overtype.
The layout of the search criteria section shall be such that in normal use the direction of flow of user input shall be continous toward the Search button.
Results Display Section
The search results shall be displayed as rows and columns within all the available screen area except the header, top menu, footer, and search section.
Each indivdual result shall be presented as a row of fields without headings.
The search results field headings shall presented at the top of the results section above the first row of results.
Row separation shall be made easier to discriminate by virtue of a break in background shading or line. Shading is preferable because it does not require the additional space of a line, thus allowing more display space for results data.
When the displayable area is changed as a result of window size change, then the presentation will resize all content in accordance with common practice.
When content is resized as a result of such a change, resizing text shall performed within the practical limits of readability.
All the available fields of a person record shall be capable of being presented.
A mechanism shall be provided to allow the user to minimize all columns except Name.
The expanded/minimized state of columns shall be persistent for the duration of the search session.
When the user brings focus to an item in the results section, if that item contains more data than is currently displayed, then after a short delay, a popup bubble shall appear revealing the entire content of the item. Text content within the popup bubble shall be allowed to be selected and copied by the user.
Order of Displayed Results
The list of results shall be ordered according to a pre-defined set of rules setting out the priority of field matching.
Such rules are already available within existing search engines and are outside the scope of this brief.
The preferred order of displayed results shall be with the closest match first according to the rules referred to above.
Links to other records
The displayed data shall be presented in such a manner that an item which links to another record can be easily identified and followed in accordance with common practice. The user shall be allowed to open such links in the same tab or a separate browser tab or window. In the event that the user opens a link in the same tab, the normal browser function to return to the point of origin (back button) shall not be disabled.