SIGIA-L Mail Archives: RE: SIGIA-L: Contextualizing content and
RE: SIGIA-L: Contextualizing content and showing hierarchy. Was: Breadcrumb Trails
From: Casey Krub (Casey.Krub_at_360.com)
Date: Thu Jan 04 2001 - 12:17:23 EST
To add my 2 cents to this breadcrumbs/hierarchy topic...
I have always appreciated the "resource discovery" aspects of a displayed
When poking around in Yahoo!'s directory, I am fascinated by the twists and
turns of the hierarchy that is displayed. I have followed paths through the
directory that have given me a completely different hierarchy at each level.
(for example: watch the hierarchy on each page for the following path -
Recreation & Sports > Hobbies > Textiles > Knitting & Crocheting)
Granted, this can be confusing, but if I am looking for something I don't
know much about, these new and different hierarchies given me information
about how a concept is categorized/contextualized within the system I am
using which can inspire me on to think of new terms that might be more
appropriate for my search or perhaps remind me of a keyword I couldn't come
up with in the first place.
Goggle's directory takes this resource discovery to a new level by
displaying additional categories (hierarchies) for the path you are
Obviously I am speaking strictly of directories in the previous examples,
but I believe that resource discovery is evident in other types of
hierarchical navigation as well.
From: Andrew Grove [mailto:andgro_at_microsoft.com]
Sent: Thursday, January 04, 2001 7:47 AM
To: 'Gunnar Langemark'; 'Michael Fry'; sigia-l_at_asis.org
Subject: RE: SIGIA-L: Contextualizing content and showing hierarchy.
Was: Breadcrumb Tr ails
I've been staying out of this thread but must respond at this point.
With respect to most Western people being trained to understand information
hierarchically -- NO, that's not training at all. There's *very* strong
evidence from many studies done in cognitive psychology that the brain is
'wired' to organize information hierarchically. The problem is most
hierarchical arrangements correlate statistically to particular cultures but
not to individual people. So, today one hierarchy works for a person and
tomorrow (or the next minute), they need a different one. The 'training' is
that people in a given culture do expect certain hierarchies. If we, as
providers of information, can learn what our users are 'trained' to expect
and incorporate that into our designs, we will meet *most* of their needs
*most* of the time. If we want to increase the probability of satisfying
them, we need to provide optional alternatives; that's how we will
accomodate individual differences.
Knowledge Management Analyst
From: Gunnar Langemark [mailto:gunnar.langemark_at_valtech.dk]
Sent: Thursday, January 04, 2001 2:13 AM
To: 'Michael Fry'; sigia-l_at_asis.org
Subject: SIGIA-L: Contextualizing content and showing hierarchy. Was:
Breadcrumb Tr ails
I'm new to this group - so bear with me if my input is too redundant in the
light of the history of this thread.
(I work as a Senior Information Architect in Valtech Denmark, and I'm a
Dane. I have 10+ years of experience in interactive media)
We can all differentiate between breadcrumb trails (history) and the
'hierarchy path' as used on Yahoo and other sites. The hierarchy path is a
linear and 'slim' way of giving information that contextualize the current
content. It serves to enable the user to easily 'hop' up in a hierarchy.
This is useful if you have lots of content that can be ordered
hierarchically. When the user finds that he has digged down - and taken a
'wrong turn', he can step up one or more 'levels' and resume his 'digging'
History is in the browser as a 'back' button, AND as a history 'tree' - with
dates and all! We probably don't like it - since we don't have control of
it. That's human AND it's the way life and work is! I even believe that most
users never bother to use the 'history' functionality in the browser. What
does that say about this tool?
When we discuss these matters I believe that we need to step up the
'abstraction ladder' and take an overall look at WHY we have these tools.
Users care about orientation - but probably not the way a librarian or other
academically trained person would anticipate.
Users make meaning of content by contextualizing the information they find.
One kind of context is the 'place' of the information in a hierarchy. IA's
use this information much more than most users would in most cases. We often
work hard to put all information into a fixed hierachical structure.
Most users don't bother to think much about such matters. Most users
contextualize in other ways. Most users of any media content and any
information content bring their own understanding into 'the equation'. So
they associate a lot. They expect to find certain information adjacent to
each other - such as name and e-mail address in contact information (not
just the anonymous info_at_...com thing).
Most western people - and thus most internet users - are predominantly
trained in understanding information as hierarchically ordered.
The 'funny' thing is, that the WEB has the potential to be something
different, and especially content managed by a content management system can
act differently from a static hierarchy. There is no inherent need to make
all information have a 'home' in the site structure. That is: The logical -
and probably hierarchical - structure of the content on the site, is not
nescessarily mirrored in the sites presentational and navigational
The former should reflect the understanding of the content provider -
writers, editors, and the latter should facilitate the user experience in a
way that supports a pragmatic real world understanding and contextualization
of the content and the subject matter.
For example: If You build a catering system - taking orders from lots of
restaurants and bringing them to customers, the backend should reflect a
logistical understanding of content - so that everything is distinguished by
the content provider. This information may not be as important to customers
- where the wine comes from is NOT as important as how well it goes with the
food! So the front end system should reflect the users wish to be able to
easily put together a great meal, maybe even give great suggestions!
Point being: The structuring of the information - and thus the site
structure - has more to do with user experience than it has to do with
logical content structure.
'Where' is not just a matter of hierarchy. Location is so much more.
Fra: Michael Fry [mailto:mwf24_at_drexel.edu]
Sendt: 3. januar 2001 20:59
Emne: RE: SIGIA-L: Breadcrumb Trails
Betsy Martens wrote:
> I find the "where are you now" information extremely useful.
I don't think you're alone, but I still find it interesting that Jared Spool
declared unequivocally at the Web98 conference in Boston that "users don't
care where they are." I thought he was nuts at the time--I wasn't alone; he
challenged by several in the audience but didn't back down an inch--but I
to admit that I'm intruiged by the idea that "where I am" may not be what
I really need as much as "where can I go." (I don't recall if this was
part of Spool's argument.)
In any case, this is a very subtle distinction--I imagine it would be very
tough to identify experimentally--but I think it's still worth considering.
Ultimately, I suspect that the two are very closely related--we use one to
help determine the other--but it might be very interesting to see how users
perform using a system in which they don't know where they are, but have
no problem seeing where they can go.
Any architects or "wayfinding" experts out there who can shed light on
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