This Weblog comes from Mindy McAdams and resides at It's a personal blog and probably not of much interest to anyone but me. You are welcome to read and comment as you like.

May 28, 2001

Leaving and Coming Back

Nielsen (Designing Web Usability, p. 66): The "rhetoric of departure" and the "rhetoric of arrival." (1) Warn the users when a link will take them away from the site where they are. (2) Situate the users in the context when you control the page (make it clear why they are where they are). There's a connection to the literature of interior design -- the uses of doors, doorways and windows, hallways, stairways, foyers, porches. The connecting architecture establishes relationships between the rooms. Never leave the user asking (like David Byrne), "How did I get here?"

Posted by macloo at 09:18 AM | Comments (0)

Links and Their Types

Nielsen (Designing Web Usability, p. 51) identifies "three main forms of links": (1) Structural navigation; (2) Associative (in the context); (3) "See Also lists of additional references."

This differs only slightly from the way I categorize types of links: local, off-site and anchor; then, separately, embedded vs. separated list. I think Nielsen is right to consider navigation links (i.e. fixed site navigation, or wayfinding) as its own special category of link type.

Posted by macloo at 09:02 AM | Comments (0)

May 27, 2001

Passini and the Labyrinth

The discussion of labyrinths and mazes in Wayfinding in Architecture by Romedi Passini (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1984): The idea that THERE IS A PLAN -- even though the point is to allow the user to get lost.

The puzzle is meant to be solved. Even in the story of the Minotaur, the puzzle was finally solved (with the help of a ball of string).

The connection (or association) here is with interfaces that may be hard to use, but not because the designer was careless. Instead, as we try to create new architectures, we may choose to make them (sometimes) difficult. The associations must make sense, at least in the mind of the designer. They are not random. They are deliberate. Even a labyrinth is built according to a plan, an intention.

Posted by macloo at 11:56 AM | Comments (0)

Storing and Transmitting Knowledge

That assumption about associative indexing (below) is supported by the increase in number of discoveries (in science, particularly) that follows a society's adoption of written communication, and particularly the coincidence of the European age of discovery with the maturation of mass-produced printed texts (about 50 years after Gutenberg started churning out Bibles on his printing press). It is not that a print society is superior to an oral society in all respects, but rather that the storage and transmission of new knowledge is more efficient in a print society.

Posted by macloo at 11:44 AM | Comments (0)


On the subject of associative indexing: I think this connects closely with the recoding of chunks (see "Magical Number Seven" below) and the effectiveness of memory palaces as described by Yates. In "As We May Think" (1945), Vannevar Bush wrote:

"The human mind ... operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain. ... [T]rails that are not frequently followed are prone to fade, items are not fully permanent, memory is transitory."

The more effective humans are in their ability to index information by association, the more they are able to learn and discover. That is my assumption.

Posted by macloo at 11:21 AM | Comments (0)

May 26, 2001

News from the Wider World

Another useful thing from this week (and relative to Edouard Rollet's master's thesis): I found a nice site on uses and gratifications theory. I have been thinking a lot about uses of news and information by citizens in a democratic society. I have a full explanation (in an unpublished book chapter of mine) of social use, personal use and diversion/entertainment -- basically, I reject the taxonomies of use that include eight or ten categories. My rejection is based largely on the "magical number seven" (see below).

This week, though, I thought of something new to add to that. It's sort of a centers-and-margins thing, but I think I would rather characterize it as inside/outside and place it inside the "social use" category. The idea came to me during the New Directions for News workshop at Stanford on Monday, May 21. Several people on the audience panel commented on their desire to find news and information about the world outside the world they live in -- the wider world, the global village.

This fits, of course, with the old idea that news (or journalism) helps us understand the world, and this understanding is very necessary to citizens who self-govern. We cannot function as a democratic society if we are ignorant of other cultures, other nations -- or even other people not exactly like us in our own towns and cities.

So, within my own "uses and grats" category of "social use" information, I would like to distinguish between information that is useful directly -- because it is inside our own world or sphere (our town, state or country, I suppose) -- and information that is useful mainly in its contribution to our understanding of the larger world. (Call the first "inside" and the second "outside.")

Posted by macloo at 11:40 AM | Comments (0)

Information Anxiety

Reading the Miller article reminded me that I need to buy (and read) the new edition of Richard Saul Wurman's classic book Information Anxiety (1989). The new one has been waiting in my cart for quite a while now.

Posted by macloo at 11:26 AM | Comments (0)

The Magical Number Seven

An article titled "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information," came to my attention when someone told me it contains the first occurrence of the word "chunk" being applied to the way people organize information. I found the full text online, which is great because the article was published in 1956 in Psychological Review.

The author, George A. Miller, distinguishes between bits of information and chunks of information. After reviewing several studies by other researchers, he concludes that humans can easily process or remember about seven chunks regardless of the size of the chunks (he measures size in bits). A very cool part of his theory is that when we recode information, we combine multiple chunks -- and this allows us to remember (or understand) more stuff.

Miller is careful to distinguish between memory and processing. In humans as in computers, storage and processing are two separate functions. The memory parts of his article made me think of Frances Yates's wonderful book, The Art of Memory (1966).

Posted by macloo at 10:39 AM | Comments (0)