Navigating through the memi
POSTED: February 4, 2007
Broadly speaking there are two approaches to navigating through a large store of information. I have deliberately used both strategies on this site.
The first is to use a predefined taxonomy. On this site this taxonomy consist of a set of sections, each of which has subsections or categories.
The five sections are available from every page and appear on the menu bar at the top of each page. They are Home, Information, Projects, Teaching and Writing. Moving the mouse over a section name on the menu brings up a sub-menu containing a horizontal list of the relevant categories. Clicking on a section name opens a page that gives a short description of the purpose and nature of the section. This pages has links that enable you to see the contents of the entire section alphabetically or chronologically.
The same principles apply to the individual categories. If you click on a category name on the menu then you will be taken to a page that offers a short description and explanation, and links to enable you to see the contents of the category alphabetically or chronologically.
Looking at the contents of a section or category shows you a list of titles, each followed by a short synopsis of the article. Clicking on a title will take you to a page containing the entire article.
At the top of each article is a line showing the section and category the article belongs to. These are themselves lnks that will take you straight back to the listings.
Each article has a set of tags at the bottom, which constitute a folksonomy. The tags are simply words which seem to me to relate to the contents of the article. There is no standard list of tags. They are made up as I go along, and are entirely subjective.
Each tag is followed by two icons: one for Del.icio.us and one for Technorati. Clcking on the name of the tag will open a page showing every page in the memi that is tagged with that word. You can view this alphabetically or chronologically. Clicking on either of the icons will take you to a page showing all the uses of that tag saved in del.icio.us and Technorati.
There is also a tag cloud that provides visual information on what tags exist and how often they have been used. Tags change size and colour according to their frequency in the site.
A tag cloud is an obviously visual means of pointing users towards entries, since it not only points towards individual entries but also gives a broad and intuitive picture of the areas that the site covers. So, more subtly is a menu bar, which provides a visual indication of the author or editor’s view of how the entries can be classified.
It is becoming clear to me from the experience of compiling this site that there are many, equally logical, possibilities for drawing up taxonomies. The decision that a piece of information should be categorised as referring to the digital world rather than the cultural is sometimes quite arbitrary, and has more to do with my reason for including it than for any inherent properties it may possess as information.
Given this, then visual clues may need to be reinforced in some ways. I have been puzzling, for example, about what to do with linked entries: entries such as those that will form my thesis. I suspect that this needs another, complementary method of signposting.
One method I have been exploring is the use of concept maps to provide diagrammatic representations of the stages of an argument. I have used these in teaching with some success, and I have posted some here in the Teaching section. I might need to consider widening their use.
Methods of visual navigation, or visual knowledge building, need not be all or nothing as, arguably, concept maps are. They may be supplementary pointers that serve to enrich an experience. The album view available in the iTunes application is be an example of that approach. It enhances the use of the software by simulating, to a limited degree, the experience of flipping through a record collection. However the software does not depend on its use.
The paragraph above provides the first example of this approach in action. One point worth noting is that the tagging involved will needed to be automated, written down, or repeated like a mantra until it can no longer be forgotten. It involves a div with a class with an anchor nesting inside it.
Another point is that WP does not seem to like the use of div tags. If the entry is reopened later for amending the tags become paragraph tags, and the styling is thus lost. Just now I had to go back into the so-called code view and re-enter the div markings.
I am sure there is a solution to this at some level…