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© 2002 Jason Withrow Choosing the Best Path: Techniques for Assessing and Improving Information Scent Jason Withrow Internet Professional Instructor Washtenaw Community College
© 2002 Jason Withrow Overview Introducing Information Scent Developing Good Scent Assessing Scent Quality Supporting Scent
© 2002 Jason Withrow Introducing Information Scent What is Information Scent? –How do you get from here to there in an information space? –Visual and verbal cues guide the way –Looking for a movie DVD on a website? Choose the global navigation link labeled Films before the links labeled Music and Software But what if you want a movie soundtrack?
© 2002 Jason Withrow Theoretical Foundations Information Foraging Theory –Humans are informavores –We forage through information spaces, looking for the best information, with parallels to how animals hunt –We move on when a certain threshold is reached, either high or low –Poor information scent could provide the justification for moving on
© 2002 Jason Withrow Research Foundations Work on information foraging and information scent started in the 90s and has primarily been by researchers, many in the area of information visualization Xerox PARC (Peter Pirolli, Stuart Card, Ed Chi, among others) Additional researchers (e.g., George Furnas, UM School of Information)
© 2002 Jason Withrow Web Information Scent Scent applies to any information space Our focus is on the web Both browsing and search With browsing, good labeling is vitally important in getting users to the desired destinations With search, the goal is to get the user to the right neighborhood on the website
© 2002 Jason Withrow Understanding Information Scent Each label on a website has a semantic relationship with the links to which it leads Think of the top-level label as carrying a residue of the lower-level labels. This residue is the scent we follow. Careers carries a strong, distinct residue for the Open Positions and Employee Benefits subnavigation links.
© 2002 Jason Withrow The Perils of Unclear Scent Where do I go to buy their software? Products or Store? Scent should be strong and distinct, leading users both towards and away from certain sections of a website. Source:
© 2002 Jason Withrow Scent and Information Processing Choosing among information scents seems to involve preconscious processing Scent draws on our existing semantic networks, vast numbers of nodes (with one node per concept) interconnected in various relationships
© 2002 Jason Withrow Semantic Networks Blue Red Sky Shirt Clouds Pants Green Fire Tie Grass Airplane Plants
© 2002 Jason Withrow Spreading Activation Activation of one node spreads down the paths to related nodes, in a ripple effect As the activation spreads further from the source, it decreases in strength Distance of nodes from one another, as well as the weight (strength) of the connection, is based on how closely related they are in your experience
© 2002 Jason Withrow Spreading Activation and Scent The labels chosen for links activate these nodes and cause the spreading activation We choose the link label with the strongest relationship to what we are seeking, based on what we have encoded in our semantic networks
© 2002 Jason Withrow Determining Good Scent Browsing: The user starts at the home page and arrives at the desired information simply by choosing the best link at each level of the site. Search: The user searches and either finds the desired information or arrives at a page where local navigation conveys sufficient scent to reach the goal.
© 2002 Jason Withrow Three Indicators of Poor Scent Indecision (Which path to take? More than one looks like a possibility.) Frustration (None of these look good!) Confusion (What does this word even mean?)
© 2002 Jason Withrow Why It Matters to Get Scent Right Saved time Saved patience Increased productivity Increased satisfaction Increased usability
© 2002 Jason Withrow Developing Good Scent When designing/redesigning a website, aim for a broad, shallow structure Why breadth over depth? –Top level labels must provide scent for all levels further down –Degree of labeling ambiguity corresponds to degree of scent ambiguity
© 2002 Jason Withrow The Value of Breadth CHI 2001CHI Expanded breadth (11 to 14 links) - Better scent: Call for Participation --> Submissions, Volunteering Introduction & Overview --> FAQ, Conference Overview Presenters --> For Presenters - User testing supported changes Sources:
© 2002 Jason Withrow Establishing Breadth: Card Sorting Exploratory card sorting can be helpful Provide users with the content pieces and have them sort the content into related groupings, then label the groupings This is useful primarily for establishing breadth and site structure (hierarchy) User-supplied labels can sometimes be good at conveying scent
© 2002 Jason Withrow Exploratory Card Sort Process 1. Orient the user (What is the site? Task?) 2. The user groups related cards into piles 3. The user assigns one label to each pile 4. Can the piles be subdivided further? 5. Label each of the smaller sub-piles 6. Sometimes further subdivision is needed 7. Record the groupings and labels 8. Repeat with another user
© 2002 Jason Withrow Create Secondary Groups On-the-road journal Campaign timeline Media coverage Speeches Newsletter Campaign events Press releases News & Events
© 2002 Jason Withrow Label Secondary Groups On-the-road journal Campaign timeline Media coverage Speeches Newsletter Campaign events Press releases News & Events News from the Candidate Events In the Media
© 2002 Jason Withrow Analyzing the Data Eyeball the data for common groupings and number of top level categories Use a program for analysis (as well as administration of the card sort): –EZSort/USort –WebCAT Cluster analysis, a statistical technique, is useful for identifying groupings
© 2002 Jason Withrow Breadth and Similarity Matching User rates on a scale of 1-10 the similarity of every possible pairing of content cards Cluster analysis creates the groups by crunching the numbers and seeing which items are rated as being most similar No labels are suggested for each cluster of content items, but hopefully a clear label emerges from examining the groupings
© 2002 Jason Withrow Assessing Scent Quality Two techniques help in assessing the quality of information scent: –Confirmatory card sorting –User testing
© 2002 Jason Withrow Confirmatory Card Sorting Conducted after the site architecture has been developed Asks the question: Do users expect to find content under the right label? If users sort content under the wrong label (or cannot place the content at all), that strongly suggests scent issues with the current labeling
© 2002 Jason Withrow Confirmatory Card Sort Process 1. Orient the user (What is the site? Task?) 2. Lay out cards with global navigation labels 3. User puts content cards under the appropriate global navigation label 4. Lay out cards with second-level labels 5. User subdivides content cards under new second-level labels 6. Lay out third-level cards and sort further
© 2002 Jason Withrow Provide Second-Level Labels News & Events News from the CandidateEventsIn the Media Campaign timeline Media coverage Speeches Newsletter Campaign events Press releases On-the-road journal
© 2002 Jason Withrow Further Subdivision Occurs On-the-road journal Campaign timelineMedia coverage Speeches Newsletter Campaign events Press releases News & Events News from the Candidate Events In the Media
© 2002 Jason Withrow User Testing and Scent User testing of information scent tends to work best with focused, information- seeking tasks
© 2002 Jason Withrow Quantitative User Test Metrics Path directness –determine optimal path and number of clicks –calculate number of clicks it takes user to reach destination and compare Path frequency –which paths are chosen most frequently? Time & Completion Rate Satisfaction
© 2002 Jason Withrow Qualitative User Test Metrics User comments –both written and verbal Signs of indecision –hovering back and forth between two global navigation links Indications of frustration and confusion
© 2002 Jason Withrow Supporting Information Scent From user testing in particular lots of suggestions arise for supporting information scent These often relate more to interface design decisions than to conceptual design
© 2002 Jason Withrow Support Options Scope indications See Also links Facet-based browsing Scent stress test for search
© 2002 Jason Withrow Indicating Scope Scope refers to the nature and extent of content in a specific part of a website Scope helps establish context for top- level labels, clarifying their scent Scope can be represented through: –Textual description –List of subnavigation links
© 2002 Jason Withrow Text Description of Scope Source: Link descriptions can also be provided using the title attribute.
© 2002 Jason Withrow Scope Links Source:
© 2002 Jason Withrow Scope and Graphical Rollovers Source:
© 2002 Jason Withrow See Also Links Often during card sorting a piece of content can potentially go into two piles Once a final location for that content is determined, provide a See Also link to the location from the other part(s) of the site where it could have been located This will help the users that follow the wrong scent initially
© 2002 Jason Withrow Standard See Also Links Source:
© 2002 Jason Withrow Contextual See Also Links Source:
© 2002 Jason Withrow Facet-Based Browsing Rather than trying to capture the whole scent in one label, another option is to allow browsing by facet A facet is an aspect or dimension of an object or piece of information Each facet is a scent trail that can lead to the object or information
© 2002 Jason Withrow Facet-Based Browsing Source:
© 2002 Jason Withrow Scent Stress Test for Search Users can enter your site at any page (assuming the website is not using frames) If they enter at a subpage, what scent will there be to assist in navigation? To support scent at those lower levels, a stress test can be performed
© 2002 Jason Withrow Stress Test Criteria Looking at the subpage, identify the following items: –The name of the website –The title of the page –The section of the website you are in –The path from the home page to your location –Other pages at the same level –Pages further down from your location
© 2002 Jason Withrow Summary The value of information scent Incorporating scent into conceptual design and interface design
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