Volume 5 Issue 1
Spring 2009
ISSN 1937-7266

The Relation Browser Tool for Faceted Exploratory Search

Robert G. Capra and Gary Marchionini

School of Information and Library Science
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
rcapra3@unc.edu, march@ils.unc.edu

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The Relation Browser (RB) is a tool developed by the Interaction Design Lab at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for understanding relationships between items in a collection and for exploring an information space (e.g., a set of documents or webpages). Users can explore datasets using a mixture of searching and browsing, supported by keyword search and dynamic queries using facets. Facets are shown at the top of the display with bars that indicate the number of items in the dataset that match the current query. Mousing over a facet dynamically updates the display to show a preview of including that facet in the query. Using these techniques of mouse brushing and search, users can quickly and easily gain and understanding of a large dataset.

Demos and more information on the current version of the Relation Browser can be found at: http://ils.unc.edu/relationbrowser


In this section, we describe features of the new RB07 version of the Relation Browser.

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  1. Multiple facet views The RB07 supports multiple facet views including a Facet List (shown) and a Facet Cloud (see website demos). Users can switch between views using tab controls. When facet values are moused-over, the display is dynamically updated to show a preview of the results of including that value in the current query. This allows users to quickly and easily issue dynamic queries to gain an understanding of the dataset.
  2. Additional static facet controls - If desired, the user can display an additional set of static facet controls along the left side of the window. These controls are especially useful when interacting with the Facet Cloud.
  3. Multiple result views - Results of studies with a previous RB version revealed that many users were accustomed to viewing results in a linear list, similar to the way that search engines dislpay results. The RB07 allows users to select either a table view similar to that used in prior versions of the RB, or to select a linear list view (shown).
  4. Current query display and control Buttons show the facets and keywords in the current query and allow items to be easily removed.
  5. and 6. Full-text search and search within the results In the RB07, we have sought to support both keyword search and facet-based exploration by including full-text search, and search within the results, while maintaining a prominent display of the facets and document space.


The RB07 is implemented as a Java applet that runs in the client browser. Data about the facets is transferred from the server to the client in serialized form using a standard HTTP web server (Apache). Full-text search is supported using a SOLR/Lucence index running in Tomcat.

The RB07 uses XML configuration files to describe a the documents, facets, and relationships. Example configuration files, demos, and video walk-throughts are given on the Relation Browser website at: http://ils.unc.edu/relationbrowser