Eastgate Systems     Serious Hypertext

The Limits of Structure

The structural rigidity that makes navigation simple and ubiquitous, though it gives a hypertext the appearance of efficiency, can make that hypertext seem sterile, inert, and distant. We may find excitement in individual pages, but the hypertextual whole seems a mere shell enclosing variously interesting bits. Rigid structure is often promoted for its efficiency and cost-effectiveness, particularly for large Web sites, but excessive rigidity can be costly:

  • The repeated appearance of navigation centers -- the home page and other navigational landmarks -- can send the wrong message. Each time readers finish an article, the navigational apparatus returns them to a central page. Revisiting a landmark always suggests closure, prematurely inviting the reader to leave the hypertext and do something else.

  • Navigational centers exert tremendous power over the entire structure. Articles mentioned on key pages receive traffic; others are rarely read. Important parts of web sites effectively vanish from existence as soon as they vanish from the home page.

  • Navigation pushes everything else out of the key pages, making design a perpetual headache. Minuscule type sizes become pervasive, and corporate home pages like Netscape and Eastgate begin to look just like Yahoo.

  • Overly-efficient traversal may benefit neither the author nor the reader. A hypertext catalog, for example, is not merely a reference database; merchants want to give readers opportunities to discover things they need or want, including items the reader has never seen. Shoppers learn of new and useful things and find unexpected ways to meet their needs. Supermarkets and museums, similarly, serve both customers and proprietors by offering more than visitors expect. Efficient traversal provides the information readers think they want, but may hide information readers need.

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Eastgate Systems