Mcmaster catalog search.
First of all, I've not had time to post anything for awhile. Why? Because after having a year long stint at Oracle, I was hired as the creative director at a small startup in Silicon Valley. So I've been busy!
Anyhow, I am rarely impressed with web sites these days. Occasionally I'll stumble across one that is either really well-designed or perhaps has some 'sexy' aspect to it. Everyone rallies for Google, Apple, and other well-known tech related products. Very rarely do I stumble upon a site that immediately resonates with me as being extremely well done and useful at the same time. One site would be Wikipedia. My most recent find is a site called Mcmaster.com
I'm always looking for parts. The newest racing mower I'm working on is like building a small car and requires many specialized sprockets, pulleys, brake systems, and hardware. Most web sites that sell the stuff are absolutely horrible. I'm not talking design, of which most are painful to look at, but more about good user interface. The Mcmaster site is about the best catalog search web site I've ever seen.
Here's how it works: type in a part or item you're looking for inn the small search box to the right. As you type, it automatically starts showing hints and guesses as to what you're looking for. So if you type in the word: "Sprocket" but only type "Sproc..." it shows you sprockets. That's nothing new, but what it also does is populate the entire page with incredibly useful information about sprockets. It will show diagrams, useful terminology and various types of sprockets. What I liked about it was that it showed you all applicable specs related to the item. For example, I needed a 20 tooth, 3/8" pitch, #35 chain size drive sprocket made out of hardened steel. The set of options I could choose were laid out logically and easily so that I could drill down until the exact item I needed was in front of me.
In a world where sites that give you little frogs and other icons as gifts are hailed as ingenious because they happen to make billions of dollars, I would argue that sites such as the Mcmaster site are far more advanced and getting closer to what the true advantage of the web is, which is to connect people to information and products quickly and easily.