From sorting to filtering 13:15 on Saturday

A few days ago I had a revelation. Many times a user interface allows the user to sort data by different criteria, the user’s need is actually to filter the data.

An appropriate example is to find all emails from a particular sender. To find the person you’re looking for, you usually sort the list of emails by sender and scroll until you find the alphabetical position of the person’s name on the list. The process needs a lot of attention and you can’t even guess the approximate position of the name on the list — for instance, of all the received messages on my phone two thirds are sent by people whose name starts with “A” (I know, it’s weird).

What you’re actually trying to do is not sorting, but to filter the wanted name out of the list of sender names. Rather than visually scan the sorted list, you would do a lot better without seeing all the names you’re not looking for.

  • Is sorting popular because “that’s the way it’s always been done”?
  • Or because there are not good enough UI concepts for filtering?
  • Maybe because filtering usually needs typing, while for sorting you only need a (scroll) mouse?
  • How is filtering being used on the web?

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