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Navigating Sefaria

Sefaria now includes hundreds of texts with millions of words and hundreds of thousands of interconnections. Designing an interface for easily navigating a substantial library is not a simple task. For Sefaria it’s made even more complex by some unusual characteristics of our project (like our focus on parallel, bilingual text; our handling of multiple versions of texts; our acceptance of fragmentary and evolving content, etc).

We think a lot about this issue and hear lots of feedback from our users about it. Recently we’ve been working with Daniel Sieradski to redesign the navigation components of our site and our first release of the design is now live. For a tour of our new navigation, take a look at our new Navigation Screencast below.

What our New Navigation does

Our new design unifies the experience for navigating across our texts as well as across Sefaria features and site pages, into one place, which you can access in the same place on every page. It also works on iPhone and Android.

You can now browse texts and categories in Hebrew, and you can drill down into more complex texts like the Arbaah Turim or Guide for the Perplexed so you can get to the exact place in the text you’re looking for.

One of the big chidushim of Dan’s design is to mix the content of a text into its navigation by showing text previews for any section of text (whether a chapter of Tanakh, or a daf of Talmud or a mitzvah of the Sefer HaChinuch). Sometimes this can be immensely helpful, although other times maybe less so. We’ve heard from our early testing that this feature isn’t ideal for every case or every user, so we’ve left it as an option that you can turn on or off with a click.

In addition to navigating with the Sidebar, each text now has its own dedicated table of contents page. This space allows us to show more information about the versions of a text we have available, and offers a single place to see all of the commentaries we have on any given text. For example, did  you know that Sefaria now includes text from 17 different commentators, and 5 different translations for the book of Genesis?

What’s Next

The work we’ve recently released is far from complete. Our system currently assumes that every text has a uniform, numbered structure, but many (if not most) texts have names for sections and chapters, and don’t always follow a uniform structure. In addition, many texts have more than one way to refer to their parts, and can follow multiple naming schemes at once. The parshiot for Torah are a great example of this, as is the Talmud, which is referenced by daf and by chapter. We’ve been working on accommodating these variations for some time now and are excited to announce their integration in the coming weeks.

We also know that navigation isn’t just about clicking on links to get where you’re going; it’s about the search! It’s about telling Sefaria what you want and then magically getting there. We currently have a rudimentary search system, but we expect to add new features and much needed improvements to the search experience in the coming months. Stay tuned!

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