An electronic document can build itself by extracting information from a database and send itself to designated recipients.
On-line communication solves a variety of problems associated with paper. Electronic documents can be customized. These documents are easy to update, so they can always be accurate. They are easier to search than books, providing improved access to topics and cross-references.
They can be remarkably compact: A laptop with CD-ROM drive can deliver a 10,000-page documentation set that would have occupied a dozen three-ring binders.
Links vs. Fixed Paths Traditional communication is linear. Information is laid out in a single path, and readers move from topic to topic in an order determined by the writer. Electronic information is composed of individual chunks of content and computer- supported links among these chunks.
Readers follow topics in any order they choose, sometimes guided by a map of the network, sometimes creating their own paths.
Elements in an electronic document are in a perpetual state of reorganization. The user can start anywhere and, by way of electronic links, establish connections between multiple kinds of information: text, audio, and video.
A well-designed multimedia system organizes data in a complex, nonlinear way and facilitates exploration of large bodies of knowledge. At every step, the user of a multimedia system can see an example or a simulation, look up a definition, listen to sounds, or return to a previous link.
Designing Electronic Documents On-line information needs to be structured for the screen. Displayed pages from printed books will rarely yield effective on-line material. You must provide for the unique ways users interact with on-line material, facilitating multiple types and levels of searches.
In a good Web document, readers know what is available and can move efficiently from one topic to another.
Provide Navigation Aids People are used to the physical features of books. A certain heft suggests the time it will take to read the text. Page numbers are visible signals of progress. Pages can be marked and dog-eared. Bookmarks can be placed and replaced. Pages are present even when they are not being read.
With on-line text, users have different cognitive challenges. Moving through several computer screens is nor as easy as looking back and forth between pages of a book. On-line information can be confusing. You must structure material to minimize a user’s disorientation, providing ways for readers to tell where they are at all times.
Organize information in a way that makes sense to users, and provide navigation and escape information on every screen.
Write for the Electronic Page Conventions for writing electronic text are evolving, but two relatively uncontroversial techniques for improving on-line text involve conciseness and clarity. Write concisely, presenting only small chunks of text to read on each screen. Conventional wisdom holds that readers can deal with seven (plus or minus two) pieces of information at one time.
On a computer screen, it appears that a standard of five (plus or minus one) works better to minimize confusion. Substitute bulleted Iists for paragraphs, and use white space generously. Use clear and simple language so that readers get it right the first time. Most users of on-line documents do not want to relocate and reread anything.
Provide a printable version of your content; Many readers still prefer to learn from hard copy.
Design for Consistency and Quick Loading Designers of electronic documents need to develop style specifications, just as they do for hard copy. A screen has less space than a standard page, and displayed text is almost always less legible than it is when printed.
Opinions conflict about Which fonts are most legible on screen, Which graphic-highlighting devices attract a reader’s attention, and What effects will have on reading comprehension. color, blinking, sound, and animation
Consistency of design and optimizing of graphics for quick-loading time are crucial. Create a visual signature for the site, and design all screens in the same format and typographical style. Use a limited number of fonts, styles, and colors. Select fonts that are particularly legible on- screen, and present extended text in 12-point size.
Except for headings, use upper- and lowercase letters. Include images that load quickly. Readers of on-line documents expect visuals, but many get impatient waiting for graphics to load, and they move on to other sites.
Copyright Issues Though some of what is on the Internet is in the public domain and can be copied at will, a large amount of the information on the Internet is protected by copyright. It is best to assume that a work is covered under copyright protection until you have determined otherwise.
Global Audiences Because the audience for openly- available sites on the World Wide Web is international and multilingual, Web writers do well to think of the ways that their material will be received by speakers of other languages.
Accommodating Disability Audiences for Web sites are large and diverse and include people with physical limitations such as vision or hearing problems. Most U.S. federal agencies have been required to redesign their Web sites to comply with guidelines that will make the pages more accessible to people with disabilities.
Specialized software allows visually impaired users to hear text-based messages and explanations of images. Transcripts or written descriptions of audio clips assist users with hearing problems. The Web site for the accessibility initiative mounted by the World Wide Web Consortium is a good source for announcements of technical advances aimed at providing universal access to the Web:.
Past and Future Applications Multimedia has been with us at least since 1978, when rhe Architecture Machine Group at MIT developed the Aspen Movie Map. This was a surrogate travel application thac allowed the user to take a simulated drive through the city of Aspen. A sec of videodisks contained photographs of all rhe streets in the city and some of the buildings. Users could stop in froni of many buildings and go inside! The Aspen Movie Map even had a time-of-year knob, giving the user a choice of the autumn or the winier version.
By the end of the twentieth century, we had already witnessed a dramatic transition from paper to on-line documents.
Why provide each of 600 employees each a 500-page manual that needs updates at least twice a year? Accurate and updated information can be delivered on replaceable CD-ROMs, on a proprietary intranet, or on a handheld information appliance connected to the wireless Web.
Enthusiasts are convinced that multimedia applications will be the basis of a new literacy. Software will diagnose a user’s abilities and learning needs, and the multimedia book will reconfigure to best suit each reader. Learning will be effective and powerful because, in this view, nonlinear systems model the associative style of human idea processing. Information will always be timely, because electronic updates are cheap and convenient.
Skeptics wonder about a future in which all texts are unstable and can he read in any order, perhaps revised by many readers. Which versions of a document will he authoritative? What factors of electronic text will substitute for the social signals that distinguish a high-quality printed book from a carelessly prepared handout. What is the meaning of intellectual property? Will electronic documents become obsolete when hardware and software change?
Electronic text is less legible, slower, more expensive to produce, and more tiring to read. But electronic media provides vast storage capability easy search and retrieval, and accuracy.