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The Web

The principles of wayfinding are clearly relevant in immersive virtual environments, from video games to architectural walkthroughs to battlefield simulations. But do they apply to the everyday Web? Does our knowledge of orientation and navigation in the physical world have value in the digital worlds of web sites and intranets? We’ve certainly created a multitude of spatial metaphors to explain the Web, from Al Gore’s information superhighway to the proliferation of home pages, site maps, and breadcrumbs. And web designers have aggressively embraced metaphor by creating information architectures, blueprints, and navigation systems.

And yet, some researchers have begun to question the usefulness of these metaphors. Andrew Dillon and Misha Vaughan assert that “navigation is a limited metaphor for hypermedia and website use that potentially constrains our understanding of human-computer interaction.” They argue that unlike physical navigation where the destination is the goal, in semantic spaces, the journey is the destination. They suggest, as an alternative, the concept of information shape and the harnessing of perceptual cues embedded in genre. As we’ll discuss later, there is real potential in these ideas. The exploration of new metaphors and the courage to design beyond metaphor are both critical to innovation ....


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