Spotlights iTunes Heritage

By Daniel Drew Turner  |  Posted 2004-07-05 Print this article Print

In how it organizes data, "the origin of Spotlight dates back to iTunes," Bereskin said; its browser interface more closely resembles Apples music organizer than the spatial Finder metaphor. Apples new direction is welcome news to Nielsen, who writes extensively about interface and usability issues. "It is certainly a good point that the original Mac interface … works well for a small amount of info," he said, "but now we have a thousand, ten thousand documents, or information objects, such as e-mails." This, he said, presents two problems.
The first is that a large collection of individual objects is not an efficient way to manage items. For example, Nielsen said, it becomes problematic even to fit a visual representation of all of the items on a computer screen. The second lies in managing and navigating a hierarchy of folders; "you forget where you put things, or how to find." Though, Nielsen said, many people "just keep things in one big pile," which is not an optimal solution, either.
"The old interface served us well," he said, but "it doesnt really scale." Nielsen said that a search feature is, in and of itself, a "major user interface." In a recent study, Nielsen found that Web users usually head to a search engine first, making that their entry to the content available on the Internet. But this can cause a problem, Nielsen said, in changing the task from one of recognition–that is, seeing the command in a menu or an icon to click–to one of recall, as in remembering a word to type into a command-line interface. "If you know what to type, you can make it sing," Nielsen said, but you do have to remember what to type. "Recognition is always easier than recall," he said. "What I really want is a combination of the two," Nielsen said. He applauded Spotlight for supplying a more flexible and meaningful search context, in that it can dig for content and metadata and presents results in a structure that can provide more context, as when items are grouped by author. However, he said, "it looks like the only categorization theyre doing is [that] this is a document–not that it belongs to this project, etc." Its not just the label thats important, he said, but the meaning of the label. What Nielsen hopes to see eventually, he said, is a search that returns grouped files, or a search that returns synopses and uses "fuzzy words" to locate content. "You cannot rely on the average person to generate good data," he said. But Nielsen said he was overall favorably impressed with Spotlight, in part for its speed (Spotlight indexes files and content when it is installed and adds each object to its index as it is generated), but also as a positive first step in providing an alternative, usable interface in the era of massive data. Searching for data is a way to use the "richness of language to express ourselves," Nielsen said, but, he added, "If we have only search as our interface, thats also too primitive." Check out eWEEK.coms Macintosh Center at for the latest news, reviews and analysis about Apple in the enterprise.

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