There has been much to-do on the matter of Search. It’s perhaps the most consistently controversial element in Second Life in terms of ongoing debate, with many complaining that it has been “broken” since the birth of Viewer 2, and that Linden Lab have been slow in responding to issues and problems.
At the same time we have LL working to try to improve things, tweaking this, changing that, taking on feedback somewhere else – all of which has culminated in the arrival of the Search Viewer project and the “new” Viewer 2 Search – which people are saying actually isn’t half-bad.
I’ve been playing with the “new” Search since it was made available through the Firestorm Public Beta, and I have to say that in many respects, I like it: the opening screen is clean and clearly laid out, it recaptures some of what Search 1 had and earlier versions of Search 2 lacked, etc. In other respects I still find it a bloody annoyance.
So if I were asked, what would I like to see in Search, what would my answer be?
Well, first the good – and I’m deliberately focused on the look and feel and use of the search window as it is presented to us, rather than digging into the intricacies of word lists, gaming and everything else that goes into making the wider subject for Search and Second Life such a hotbed of debate.
I’d certainly keep the new front page layout. It’s clean, it’s easy to follow, and it has all the core items required to facilitate a search. At the top of the page is the main search bar, withthe ability to define searches by category via a drop-down list.
The rest of the page layout is pretty much self-explanatory and easy to follow (although I am curious as to how ads for the “highlights” in Events, etc., tabs & in Classified are selected, and how frequently they are rotated for ads from other creators).
After this, however, I’m less enthusiastic about how information is presented. The fact is, whatever the “under-the-hood” improvements that have been made, Search still wastes space and takes up more screen real estate than I personally feel is necessary.
Look at the example above. There is much that is useful in it – the Filters on the left, the main results area, etc. – but the fact is it is poorly presented and wasteful. Why aren’t the filter options tabbed across the top, in keeping with the Events, Destinations and Land tabs on the home page? This is not only more logical, it frees-up the main section of the window to allow more information to potentially be displayed. Similarly, why the vertical column to the right for Classifieds? Why not use the bottom part of the window, again in keeping with the home page?
Then there is the fact that if you want to drill down to detailed information on anything, you get chucked out of the Search window and into the Sidebar. Sometimes (as with profiles) this might be useful, but given the dearth of information the Sidebar now tends to offer for things like Places, this is frequently a wasted exercise and so doubly annoying. Things are equally irritating when you’re searching through a set of results for something specific and wind up having to shuffle back and forth between Search and Sidebar, impersonating a tennis ball in the middle of a Nadal / Djonkovic rally.
Which is a shame, as it really needn’t be like this.
All it takes is a little forethought
The “powerful” aspect of the Viewer 1 Search has always been the convenience with which results are displayed. For the majority of searches, everything is focused on a single window split into two panes: on the left is a list of initial results, on the right space to display focused results.
This is not 100% ideal, but it does tend to give maximum bang to the buck on any given search. When running a search on people, land, places and the like, this is massively convenient, allowing you to quickly flick back and forth between a list of results and the details on each one without taking up masses of screen space (so you can even keep an eye on what is happening around you in-world).
My ideal Search
My ideal search would therefore take the strengths of Viewer 1 and the “new” Search (tabs, filters, home page, etc.) and (where appropriate) the two-pane design of Viewer 1 Search and bring them together in a Search window that avoids the Sidebar and presents information in a manner that is fast and convenient to use – as in the example I’ve cobbled together rather roughly below.
Of course, some of the tabs would need to be tweaked somewhat. Events, for example, would require an ability to search by event type, data, times, etc. – but this capability is already supplied in the left-side filters on the “new” search, and should be relatively easy to incorporate them in my revised layout as a drop-down series of options.
The image above isn’t perfect – I’m not terrifically clever with graphics, but I think it gives a reasonable idea of what could have been done, and even provides room here and there for things to be tweaked.
Can it be done? Well, why not? Will it be done? Probably not. But I can dream, can’t I?