Mobile design/Wikipedia navigation/Search

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This page captures the functional design of search on Wikipedia Mobile as it has been currently implemented and as we propose to implement it on both the mobile site and apps.

Components of search[edit]

The main components of search are:

  • type-ahead suggestions based on article titles
  • full-text search
  • "Did you mean" for possible misspellings

These components interact and are displayed in a certain way on the desktop site and that behavior is not completely suitable on the mobile site or apps. User interaction is significantly different on mobile devices and so a basic implementation in the Android app used the following conventions:

  • tapping the search field causes the screen to be replaced with a full screen devoted to type-ahead results, with the top showing only the search field and a back button
  • the native keyboard opens, obscuring roughly half the screen
  • when the user starts typing, type-ahead suggestions populate the screen below the search field, and of course they can be obscured by the keyboard
  • if the search string does not match any article titles, none will be displayed
  • if the search term does not match an article title and it is close in spelling to an article title, "Did you mean" will present some possible articles
  • tapping on the search button in the keyboard will launch a full-text search
  • tapping on back in Android and Done in iOS will close the keyboard
  • scrolling the list of type-ahead results is possible after the keyboard is closed
  • single tap to open an article

While this is similar to the behavior on the desktop, one element that is missing is the additional suggestion at the bottom of type-ahead results for a full-text search.

Current issues[edit]

The user interaction on mobile is more segmented, because there is less surrounding context, or the individual steps are more distinct. For example, the full-text search is an entirely separate action, which in some ways is dictated by the constraints of the screen.

Perhaps the biggest issue is that search does not behave as it would in Google. Users have commented about this.

The counter-intuitive effect of typing more characters in the search string is that results decrease to the point of disappearing altogether. Some explanatory text has been added recently to make it more clear that type-ahead results are for article titles only. After type-ahead results disappear, some text appears to explain why there are no type-ahead results and to give instructions for doing a full-text search.

It may help to put the suggestion for a full-text search at the bottom of the type-ahead results. The user would have to scroll to the bottom to see that option when the type-ahead results are numerous. It may be worth using this approach in addition to presenting text when type-ahead results disappear, as we are currently doing.

We did experiment with blending type-ahead results with full-text search results. For example, at the point that no type-ahead results remain, we could switch automatically to full-text search. But this seemed confusing - some search results disappear and then more and different search result suddenly appear.

Using full-text search instead of type-ahead search did not enhance search success with a variety of search terms, and seemed to diminish it. The main goal on mobile is to type less, and type-ahead helps with that more directly than full-text search.

Find text in article[edit]

A feature that has been requested numerous times and that would help significantly with browsing through articles is find text in article. This should be prioritized as the next feature related to search and it would be an excellent candidate for the Action Bar.