Saturday, February 9, 2008

Structuring Information: Content Labels which Speak the Users' Language

The project partners met at a special interest group where they could discuss progress and contribute their ideas for the Rural Net site. Many of the partners were new to the web and did not have a strong idea of what they could expect from the technology; they had even less experience of what their end users would find acceptable. This scenario is fairly common in the current development of commercial web-sites, and unless checked can open the way to some serious usability problems.

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It is important that information on a web-site is structured appropriately and in a way that a wide range of users will understand. Oblique content labels and cul de sacs are still a big problem with many web-sites: search and use of content labels are the two main ways in which users navigate a web- site (Rosenfeld and Morville, 1998). Users' (especially naive users') browsing and searching strategies are still very much based on the analogy of printed media.

An unambiguous information architecture is the key to the usability of a Web-site. Information architecture is a topic which is much discussed in industry at the moment but in many cases it is not practised effectively. This could be due to the fact that good information architects are hard to find. The qualities required include a good technical understanding of the structuring of information plus an ability to see things from the users' perspective. (Many usability consultants fulfil a dual role including that of information architect.)

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