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Tools order and search

Topic Type: 
Idea

I think that tools should be listed by default from most complete to least complete - or from commercial product, to DIY, on down to concept. This will highlight the most complete projects first, and also provide an incentive to move the other products at the back of the list up towards the front. It is also becoming clear to me that a sort or search function is going to become very important very quickly.

David Meehan's picture

I was thinking the same thing about a search function. Users won’t want to have to search through pages of tools to find any given one. As the list grows it will become far too time consuming to find anything. Perhaps one way to help implement this would be to allow the tool’s creator and editors to add tags to the tool’s profile which can then be used as the basis for the search, along with other characteristics such as its stage and type. I’ve also been thinking about what you mentioned with regard to listing tools by stage. That seems like a good default system to list the tools. Perhaps there can also be some sort of dropdown menu which will allow users to select how they wish the tools to be sorted. Various listing options might include by stage, type, name, and creation date(if any such data exists about a given tool). And if tool usage/participation statistics get implemented which can gauge how much activity each tool has in a given time frame, tools could also be listed based on how much recent activity they have. This way, tools which are receiving a large amount of community support will appear at the top of the list.

R.J. Steinert's picture

As the list grows it will become far too time consuming to find anything.

For some examples of types of search, check out Section 9, "How will users find information?", in my We believe in sharing document. I think the answer as far as searching goes is giving users a whole array of options. Hopefully we will grow to the point where we need Full Text Search, as they say "a problem we would like to have," but if we implemented it right now it would lead users to a whole bunch of searches with "No results found".

Perhaps one way to help implement this would be to allow the tool’s creator and editors to add tags to the tool’s profile which can then be used as the basis for the search

I'm into this idea. We've spent time trying to see into the future and predict how Tools will be categorized, and I like what we have so far, but perhaps now it's time to let users start "freetagging" in a Keywords category on Tools. A tag cloud will show what keywords are the most popular and if we start to seem some category trends in the Keywords vocabulary then we may have a candidate for a new category on Tools. Converting a bunch of content with a set of Keywords into a new category takes a little leg work but it's definitely a problem we'd like to have.

Perhaps there can also be some sort of dropdown menu which will allow users to select how they wish the tools to be sorted.

At the moment you can sort on the Stage, Type, and Last Tool Wiki Update columns. I think I can turn that sorting into a dropdown menu fairly easily as well.

...tools which are receiving a large amount of community support will appear at the top of the list.

I'd love to see this as well and it's high on my priorities for implementation. See the usage metrics I mentioned below in response to Dorn's comment.

brshute's picture

In thinking about our default listing / tool organization let's think about who our average user will be and why they are visiting the site.

Hopefully our average user is a farmer who is looking for a solution to an issue on the farm. Ideally that user will also be a contributor to the site in terms of tool development; but the vast majority will be arriving because they are looking for information first-- and hopefully they will be contributing info through forum posts, questions, and maybe tool posts later. Just think about Wikipedia, and what percentage of users arrive to find information vs. to contribute information.

So if I am arriving at Farm Hack because I heard it could be a good place to find a solution to a problem on my farm, the default tool organization that I want to see would be tools by category, so I can find tools that are relevant to my farm or my problem (fruit growing tools aren't much use if I'm a dairy farmer, etc.).

It's also nice to be able to sort to see tools displayed other ways, for example those of us on the Farm Hack development team clearly are interested in seeing tools sorted by level of development, but I think it's not the most relevant thing at all to the average user.

R.J. Steinert's picture

So if I am arriving at Farm Hack because I heard it could be a good place to find a solution to a problem on my farm, the default tool organization that I want to see would be tools by category, so I can find tools that are relevant to my farm or my problem (fruit growing tools aren't much use if I'm a dairy farmer, etc.).

I agree. It's also in the interest of Tool developers that the maximum amount of interested eyeballs find their tools quickly. According to Raymond's version of Linus's Law, "Given a large enough beta-tester and co-developer base, almost every problem will be characterized quickly and the fix will be obvious to someone." So if we focus on building the search tools for Farm Hackers like myself who are interested in seeing where the action is, then a whole bunch of potential contributors might not be seeing what they are looking for. I think metrics like "# of wiki edits" and "# of forum posts" for a Tool are not first priority but second priority. After the user has somehow generated a list of results they are interested in, the participation metrics let the user know which ones are healthy.

At the moment though and probably for the next few months, I think most people visiting the Tools section will not find anything necessarily useful to them. I think it's important to prove to those folks that if they have a Tool idea and make the effort to post it, that there will be an active community ready to jump in. So for now I'm kind of happy just having the current sort mechanism of "Last Tool Wiki Update" and perhaps when we do get more participation metrics on the Tools page we sort by one of those. Again, this is my thinking for a short term strategy while we are bootstrapping this community. I could be convinced otherwise, prioritizing long term is not that crazy of an idea :P.

Dorn's picture

I think just as there are stages of development for tools, we have stages of development for the forum/wiki/site. I agree that as we get a longer list of tools we will likely want to search by function and application, but I think as we are establishing standards for tool documentation that it would be helpful that the first few tools people see are well documented with a lot of activity around them. As we have more to choose from, we will be able to highlight them in the blogs for this purpose, and depend on a more advanced menu/search function later. So I would see sorting/listing by stage and documentation level as an early stage approach as we are building and then moving to something more advanced?

R.J. Steinert's picture

In response to

...it would be helpful that the first few tools people see are well documented with a lot of activity around them...

Check out my comment in the Maintainer discussion.

[It looks like a good way to start might just be a loose "Volunteer as a maintainer" function on each Tool page that allows users to say who they are and how they plan on contributing. This can be accomplished by just pencilling yourself onto the Tool's Wiki page but it could be massively helpful when sorting Tools to be able to have that extra metadata that shows where people have volunteered to answer questions and where no one has.](http://www.farmhack.net/comment/102#comment-102)

I also just added a "Last Tool Wiki Update" column on the Tools page. Now the Tool with the most recently edited documentation floats to the top. That is at least some kind of indication of activity. Another metric we could publish there might be "# of Tool's Wiki Updates" and "# of Tool's Forum topics". I started with what we have because that was a quick fix. The other two metrics will require an hour or so of coding.

R.J. Steinert's picture

Given Ben's point of

So if I am arriving at Farm Hack because I heard it could be a good place to find a solution to a problem on my farm, the default tool organization that I want to see would be tools by category, so I can find tools that are relevant to my farm or my problem...

I added a quick feature so we now have faceted search on the Tools page by one parameter, the Tool Type parameter.

What does everyone think? It could probably use some styling and more parameters but I think having it as-is is better than not having it right now.

R.J. Steinert's picture

How do folks feel about implementing David's suggestion of parameters in the same fashion that I implemented the Tool Type parameter?

Various listing options might include by stage, type, name, and creation date