Search interfaces were plain abysmal. It was incredibly frustrating to have only simple field-based access for searching. Granted, many of the creators of these sites were not information retrieval experts, but the sheer dumbness of the search systems was frustrating.
The American University allowed Compound or Simple searches. Fields can be searched separately, but there are only two items to be compounded.
Results are listed by collection with Name, Title, and Short Description. Clicking on the title brings a screen with multiple frames. The upper right hand corner has a link to show more information.
There did not seem to be any thumbnails, but rather midsize images in the upper left. This is very annoying if your intent in using the system is to browse.
There appeared to be no browse function. This is unfortunate, as casual users may not know what they want from the system - browsing often brings about more directed interest in a topic.
This site had a simple artist/title/keyword form for searching. Here too, you could search for images based on which source museum they came from. As a casual user, these fields are not terribly helpful.
This site let the user enter SQL commands. The site is built on mSQL (yeah!), and as such has the possibility of having a powerful search functionality.
The results from a search was a table of image artist and title, and links to the image thumbnails. There were no thumbnails in the result. When the link was followed, the thumbnail and full information about the image would be displayed. The thumbnails I viewed were of quite poor quality - they appeared to be sampled at very low resolution and "blown up" to fit a certain size.
Full size images seemed to suffer from quality problems as well, but they appeared to be quite large (700x500), larger than the full size images in most of the other sites.
Allowed search by course, keyword, creator, and object name. One nice funciton is the ability to sort the results. I found that these fields weren't all that useful. The presentation was simple - used simple forms that most surfers are used to.
The search returns a page of HTML tables with thumbnails and basic information about each image. They are listed 5 to a page, which is useful if you have a small result set. Unfortunately, looking at larger numbers of images was tedious, to say the least.
All fields were available for matching. Many fields had definition links, but these definitions weren't too helpful in actual practice.
Apparently, this is for those people who don't want to actually look at the thumbnail images retrieved. Not terribly useful - I can always turn off "autoload images" if I want.
Image Display (clicking on thumbnails) was good - this site allowed you to download a very big image, but the computer ran out of memory!
There appeared to be no browse function here.
Here, there were two search options: Simple and Compound. The simple search, like other sites, was just a field for entering keyword or phrase terms to match certain fields. The compound search allowed entering two keywords or phrases joined by an and or an or. I found this frustrating because I usually wanted to perform a more complex search than a simple and/or.
The result set here was displayed in interesting ways. This was the only site that gave the user options about how to display the results. This is very helpful because different usage and search modes may require different types of browsing of search results. The three options were 1) thumbnail w/brief Record, 2) Thumbnail w/ Checkbox and 3) Brief Record. #1 returned a set of 40x60ish thumbnails which had next to them brief descriptions. Each picture had a link to a "full description" which included the thumbnail and the full description of the image. Clicking on the thumbnail sends the user to a large image (ie 450x600ish) #2 showed just thumbnails with checkboxes. This is especially good for users just wishing to browse visually. By checking a box and clicking a link, you get a #1-like page with only those images checked. #3 -No thumbnails, just title/author/date/museum and a link to the actual image.
The flexibility of this system reflects the many uses for which the MESL system might be accessed. Some users want to look at neat pictures, some want to do serious research.
This site gives the best insight into the breadth and nature of the collection. There is a table (four columns) with links for a summary and list of the distributions for each source site for each of the two distributions. This is not terribly useful, however, for a casual browser, or someone who is not interested in where the works came from. The summary is very high level and not very much use - the lists of images gives a link to each image and enough information for a user to identify a picture they are looking for, but not enough for a casual user.
This was the slickest (and frankly, most comfortalbe) interface of the lot. Multiple frames were done intelligently, as thumbnails were listed in the lower left hand corner and the full images or textual info was listed in the lower right hand corner. The one drawback is that there is much less real estate to see the actual full size image.
Full size images varied a great deal in size, and thumbnails tended to be of relatively similar size. Thumbnails were listed five at a time which adds to the frustration of trying to browse a large list.
The frameless version of the search results was also well laid out, but still suffered (or benefited) from the five-at-a-time problem.
The actual search feature only allowed separate searching of five fields, but you could search by separate museums. I'm unclear why one would really want to use this feature, but it was present on many of the sites.
Here, you get a table which lets you browse the keywords given by a particular museum for a given field (ie contents - subject). You can then select any one of those keywords and select a sort ordering. As you drill down through these options, there is displayed at the top of the screen a search string which is equivalent to the search you are currently performing. This is an excellent feature which lets the user more quickly perform specific searches based on combinations of the searches they are led to do by the table initially presented. In essence, browsing is just a specific type of searching.
There was a quick search form and a Power search form on the same page. The quick search form simply let you enter a keyword or phrase to search for and a sorting order.
The Power search let you enter values for multiple terms to search for, limits on the source institution and dates. You could also view the "dictionary" of terms used in a particular category - this of course, would help a user make more precise searches, assuming they know what the significance of the terms are. Since I don't have much art experience, many of the terms were either foreign to me, or carried meanings which I was not aware of.
Search results consist of a list of very very small thumbnails (40x80?) and a list of title/authors. Clicking on the thumbnails brings you to another page with the thumbnail. Next to the thumbnail are four buttons to see the image in four different sizes. This feature is unique to this site and seems like it might be useful. The largest pictures were very large (800x1800?), and of fairly good quality. There were small, medium, large, and max size versions of the images.
I searched for the terms "german landscape". I wanted to see how the different systems would respond to a content and context-based search with fairly standard terms.
Used compound search: "german" and "landscape" in
Result: No Matches no matter how I tweaked the search
Keyword search: "german landscape"
SQL search was pretty useless since I couldn't find the table column names (ie the field names)
Used simple search. The compound search wasn't useful.
I entered "german landscape" for simple search field.
I got 6 results - most were landscapes by german-born artists.
Search w/Compound Search: "german" AND "landscape"
Results: 6 results (I assume same six as before)
There were NO results when using simple query.
Search for "german landscape" (only simple search here)
I got 5 results - Mostly same result as CORNELL
Quick Search: "german landscape"
This search I wanted to include a little more specific subject, and add in a common term "oil". I tried harder to tweak the searches to get a result here.
Compound Search: The multiple terms must be search in apparently the same category - oil, portrait, and child would not be in the same category so I did not use Compound Search.
Simple Search: both "oil child" and "oil child portrait" returned NO RESULTS.
This search form/engine was rich and the results were
plentiful. I filled the following fields with the
Material - Medium: Oil
Concepts - Subject: child
RESULTS: 82 Records - many portraits of children, all oil painting.
child in subject
oil in material
Produced 82 results - about half were oil portraits of children. I assume these are the same 82 portraits as from Cornell.
Search for "oil child portrait" returned NO RESULTS
"oil child" returned 2 items (both of very poor quality). However, in both cases, the images were of works created by an artist whose name is Child about the Free Soil party (containing the word oil). Clearly not successful.
Quick Search: child oil portrait
Returned NO RESULTS
child within Subject
oil within medium
Returned 31 results. Over half were oil portraits of children.
I wanted to try using a phrase which might be considered a term of art. Because I was looking for a simple phrase, I only used the simple keyword or phrase searching that most sites offered.
Simple Search: black and white
Returned 9 results: The phrase was in the label or title phrase of most of these works.
Keyword Search: black and white
Returned NO Results
Simple Search: black and white
Returned 9 results: Looked like the same 9 as AMERICAN
Simple Search: "black and white"
Returned 22 Results: I assume the same as Michigan.
Searched black and white
Returned 3 results: only results with the words black and white, but in different fields.
Simple Query: "black and white"
Returned 22 Results - most were black and white drawings - this would be considered a successful search.