Thursday, September 20, 2012

How to Use the MET site

If you've tried to use the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the past year, you know it is horrible. Last year, they changed their search functionality so it's near impossible for the average costumer to find that specific Elizabethan jacket anymore and, very recently, they deleted everything in my "MyMet" page. Yes, they've now added pinterest for the adoring masses (and not Tumblr or LJ or blogger or...)but it annoys me that I have to go and find all those 16th and 18th C pieces I had saved in MyMet again.

At least, with the search functionality, I have talked to the computer guys behind it. I asked them what the heck they were thinking and wrote a long rant about how I couldn't find anything back in January - never expecting a response. Well, I got one. :-)

Hi Isabella, Cogapp forwarded your message to me. Thanks for sending it in. The ability to sort by date is possibly the most frequently requested feature in the new collections search.

I have a couple responses to your query.

First, you can search by narrower ranges of dates, just not exactly how you expect. Go to the Collections main page ( and click on the When tab under “Search Collections By:.” There, you can enter specific dates or ranges of dates for your search. Then you can narrow down the search later with the Who/What/Where/In the Museum tabs that come up on the results page.

We know that this is not ideal always, but if you really are looking for specific dates, it works most of the time. Give it a try and let me know what you think, or if you have any questions.

Second, we are adding a Collections Advanced Search function to the site. I don’t know when exactly, but in the next few months. It will allow you to do much more specific searches and will allow you to sort results by date.

Finally: you asked why we built the search this way. While I think we misjudged a little and as a result we are adding back the “sort by date” function, the truth is that very few of our searches and result sets benefit from sorting. Consider a search for “Claude Monet,” one of the more frequent searches on the site. Today it returns 1278 results. If I were to sort it by date, it would only be helpful for the first 100 objects or so, because clicking through dozens of pages is less preferable than narrowing the search down further. Similarly, if I look at all the works made with “Oil paint” (*&what=Oil+paint) I get 2,025—sorting by artist name at that point would be mostly frustrating, and instead it is better to refine the search.

So basically it’s about two things:

1. The overwhelming size of our collection.

2. Our desire to steer people toward more useful ways of searching such vast numbers of objects.

For example, if I continued to narrow down that list of oil paintings with a “Where” setting of “United Kingdom” and then selected “A.D. 1600-1800” under “When,” I have a manageable list of 58 works. So we do hope people will prefer that narrowing function—it’s more practical more often, but moreso, it offers a way to understand our overwhelming collection as a set of sensible, well-catalogued works of art.

You will still argue that sorting it by date would be useful, and I agree. We’ll add it back to the advanced search when it launches!

:-) I've tried it many times now and it works! You can now use a "between" dates function that is, very, very close to what is needed. Yay! So, if you are searching the the MET, try going to "When" and then "Search Collections By:"


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