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Ask HN: What's the best 'non-frustrating' search/directory UI/UX you've seen?
96 points by taphangum on Oct 15, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 48 comments
I'm trying to find some inspiration for a new search engine I'm working but have found most searchable directory ui's to be very frustrating to use.

I'd love to know what you guys have seen out there. What have been some of the best examples of this type of ui that you've seen?

If you means something that searches for files within any directory, I think the best so far I've used was Everything (https://www.voidtools.com/). Lightweight, fast, and really simple UI.

I'm still looking for a Linux equivalent (I'm currently using a shell wrapper for `ag --depth 0 -g <pattern> <directory>`.)

> I'm still looking for a Linux equivalent

You mean `locate`? Package name in Debian is mlocate.

I don't know ag and it's not a package in Debian.

That said, I agree that Everything is a must-have on Windows. I don't understand how Microsoft's own search engine is so incredibly crappy (and has been since, what, Windows 95?) while Everything is a 200KB binary that does it perfectly.

> I don't know ag and it's not a package in Debian.

You're in for a treat then: the package name is "silversearcher-ag".

Next time you want to grep a directory of files: instead of grepping it, pause, remember this comment, install it and then do "ag <searchterm>" instead.

It's quite a bit faster. Well, lots faster.

Interesting. This probably the first utility in Rust I'm aware of that looks like it might belong on a production system (other than "cargo" and other rather excellent rust tooling). Nice way to show off rusts regular expression engine too.

Thanks! I installed it a and aliased grep to 'echo Try ag'.

May as well alias grep to ag XD

Thought of that, but a quick glance over ag's man page shows there are options that I commonly use with grep that work differently with ag. I don't want to mess something up so I'd rather just show myself a reminder.

> I don't know ag

Fair enough, it's been discussed here previously.

> and it's not a package in Debian.

It most certainly is:


Upstream: https://github.com/ggreer/the_silver_searcher

> It most certainly is:

It, referring to "ag", most certainly isn't. Under another name perhaps, but with an amazing name such as "ag", `apt-cache search ag` gives 38000+ results.

> Fair enough, it's been discussed here previously.

I suppose either my memory isn't infallible or I did not refresh HN often enough that day.

Anyhow that's not what I was remarking on. I was giving an alternative program to use on GNU/Linux systems with similar functionality to Voidtools' Everything. But nobody seems to notice that.

It's small wonder you didn't realize the tool is called "the silver searcher" just because the binary is named after the chemical symbol for silver ("Ag"), nor that it has been discussed here - it's been a while, and I'm not sure if it ever made it to the front page (but ack might have, and ag might have made an appearance) - apparently it's been four-five years(there's been some reposts): https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3835901

As for the package, you might want to try "apt-file":

  sudo apt install apt-file
  apt-file update 
  apt-file find bin/ag
It makes finding some of the less search-friendly packages a little easier, if you know the binary or config file name. I think it'll also work as a poor man's "provides", but I haven't tried:

  apt-file find /etc/alternatives/mail
As for something like everything, there was a "spree" of tools that tried to provide something similar, but I'm not sure of their current state -- I tried looking for some a while back and got the impression they were all more or less abandoned (with the notable exception of locate/mlocate and the similar apropos/mandb for man pages).

It would appear mlocate is most like everything, in that it only index on name/path, not contents.

Of the few I found only "tracker" seemed to be around:


Other than unity's "dash" that is:


Finally, there's "recoll":


I use Everything as well, it's really useful, very focused.

It may seem "lightweight" in a modern desktop machine, but I believe the way it works is: it keeps the index of your entire filesystem in RAM at all times. And it continuously monitors that filesystem to keep the index updated. It's kind of brute-force, really. I can think of some ways that could get out of hand and not seem so lightweight.

Regardless, the gap between what Everything can do and what the built-in File Explorer search can do is an embarrassing canyon, and I can't believe MS hasn't even fixed the built-in search enough to make it function correctly let alone quickly at this late stage.

I've been happy with Everything, too. Everything is good because it searches by multiple substrings, so you can be precise about what you're looking for. (The much-loved fuzzy search, on the other hand, in my experience returns results that might as well be random, until you type so much of what you're looking for that you might as well have typed the whole thing.)

For searching file content I quite like Agent Ransack aka File Locator: https://www.mythicsoft.com/agentransack - main thing I like about it is that it's very quick and easy to see the content results from a subset of the file search results.

Listary is another good one for this, and it chains search results with common actions. From any explorer window or desktop you can just start typing to find stuff.

And today I discovered a tool that solves a frustrating problem in Windows, thanks!

If we're talking ux it's how people search as well. We've got LATCH for that. Location, alphabet, time, category and hierarchy. On the BBC website people might search for a 'detective' (category), but also might search for 'tomorrow, this week' (time) or 'most viewed' (hierarchy).

I've always found the search on iPlayer to be next to useless. Haven't got a specific search to demonstrate, stopped using it after I deleted flash. It's a real shame the BBC continue to use flash and recommend Adobe reader when they link to a PDF. I've emailed recommending some alternative but never heard anything back.

Maybe it's not what you're looking for, but I've found McMaster-Carr's website to be highly functional in its UI/UX:


We built a SQL query tool for the filesystem (macOS) last year, and will be launching for Windows in the next two weeks.

Finding files is pretty straight forward using the LIKE operator against text in the filename, path or file contents. And the set-based logic of SQL works very well for identifying sets of files to work with: we have an exec() command that lets you run commands on file paths returned in query results.

License terms are free for personal use and $5/month commercial.


Were you inspired by Microsoft Log Parser?

We did look at Log Parser, and osquery, before starting to build Crab, but neither of them have an exec() command to run programs on query results - such as deleting them, unzipping them, or moving them. And Log Parser doesn't support joins either, which are useful to compare the contents of one directory or file with another.

Newegg has one of the most powerful product search/filter mechanisms I've seen. It's not the best UX (could use more performance and a better multi-select mechanism, and dividing the interface into three levels of simple/advanced/power search doesn't seem ideal), but in terms of functionality, it almost always has the features I want pulled out and selectable. Search for a monitor, and you'll get options for resolution, inputs, size, etc.

In terms of raw performance, I'm impressed with the speed and presentation of https://instantdomainsearch.com/ . Instant live responsiveness improves usability significantly.

I'll second https://instantdomainsearch.com/. Despite lots of copycats and more "feature-rich" alternatives, I find myself using IDS by default because of its speed and simplicity.

The very old iTunes search bar. I still miss it.

Basically, because the list of songs was short-ish (in CS terms), it would fiter it based on the current search textbox what seemed like instantly.

I would have a large list and filter it down each time the user types another letter: and concentrate on making that as fast as possible.

I do consulting for UX for faceted search, and the top of my shortlist for ideas/inspiration is still http://devart.withgoogle.com/ But for a search engine, I'm interested in how UI that works much like this example would play out: https://material.uplabs.com/posts/google-search-design-conce...

I tend to add live searches in the most important tabular views of my apps, using something like this:


Search speed, good fuzzy matching and good row/chip design are as important/more important than the basic search UI, IMO.

Sublime text....

ctrl p, type fuzzy match, instant results.

I've been collecting examples of search interfaces, maybe it can help you: https://sortandfilter.tumblr.com/

A few examples of search UI?UX and an indication of their design shortcomings might provide context for answers and a starting point for discussion.

Not sure if it counts as ui buy it is for me the only non frustrating way to search anything in my filesystem: grep and find in the terminal.

I don't know about a system for all file types, but I've always really liked how wallbase did image search. That went down but this is supposed to be the upcoming replacement: https://alpha.wallhaven.cc/

I don't think its perfect, but I think Yelp's search UI does pretty well for a ton of choices, and integrates Geo-boxing in a way that most people can understand more easily than within 20 miles of a zip code



They keep the most common filters quickly available, make it easier to dive into more, and their search result entry contains the neighborhood so i can quickly figure out where something is, a photo, part of a review, phone number and address.

Pinterest is good as a directory of almost everything that has a picture. A lot of people in UX is using it to collect inspirational UI screenshots, diagrams etc, so it's possible that you can find something there.

I like Jira's JQL search functionality. (This is for rather structured data, which are issues in a project management system).

It offers autocomplete for logical operators, search operators, field names and even for values (where there is a limited amount of data available to select). And it offers enough power for nearly all queries I could think of so far.

(In contrast to SQL there are no subselects or explicit joins, but there are plugins that make subselects available).

Have a look at https://www.pexels.com/. I think the UX is great to find photos.

Wow, this site has beautiful photos. Absolutely fantastic.

I've also been working on a search engine website, and personally my approach for the search/directory UI has been to keep it as minimal as possible, like early Google.

Not sure how inspiring it is, but here you go: https://changelogs.md/

The goal of this UI is to have the bare minimum of useful info easily accessible.

Upvoted, can't wait to hear some great comments and examples, because I too find this to be one of the most frustrating areas in my daily routine.


I am amazed that Google and grep are at the bottom of this thread. I guess they're not cool anymore, but they're two of the best examples of search UX there are.

As powerful and fast[0] grep is, it's probably because Regular Expeesssions aren't exactly user friendly

[0]: https://lists.freebsd.org/pipermail/freebsd-current/2010-Aug...

google ... before it became frustrating to be under total surveillance.

Google is amazing! However, to be fair, it'd be pretty hard to provide such amazing and accurate results without knowing a lot about you. Granted, I do wish they'd let you control more about what they know about you.

I'm reminded of the (not surprisingly) defunct Google Desktop and how it would build an index of your file system and let you search it "fuzzily" like you can with Google Search.

Some time back Google also had a product for sale to enterprises called the Google Search Appliance or something like that. IIRC they were pushing it as a packaged solution for on-prem search. Not sure what happened to it later.

Edited to add: Searched Google for it (how meta). Found this:


and this:


So it may still be available - until 2018.



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