The End of Zero-Hit Queries: Query Previews for NASA's Global Change Master Directory

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The Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory (HCIL) of the University of Maryland and NASA have collaborated over the last three years to refine and apply user interface research concepts developed at HCIL in order to improve the usability of NASA data services. The research focused on dynamic query user interfaces, visualization, and overview +preview designs. An operational prototype, using query previews, was implemented with NASA's Global Change Master Directory (GCMD), a directory service for earth science data sets. Users can see the histogram of the data distribution over several attributes and choose among attribute values. A result bar shows the cardinality of the result set, thereby preventing users from submitting queries that would have zero hits. Our experience confirmed the importance of metadata accuracy and completeness. The query preview interfaces make visible problems or holes in the metadata that are unnoticeable with classic form fill-in interfaces. This could be seen as a problem, but we think that it will have a long-term beneficial effect on the quality of the metadata as data providers will be compelled to produce more complete and accurate metadata. The adaptation of the research prototype to the NASA data required revised data structures and algorithms. (Also cross-referenced as UMIACS-TR-97-84)