Addressing Design and Usability Issues in Hypertext and
on the World Wide Web by Re-Examining the "Lost in Hyperspace"
Yin Leng Theng
Middlesex University, London
Middlesex University, London
Abstract: Users tend to lose their way in the maze of information
within hypertext. Much work done to address the "lost in hyperspace"
problem is reactive, that is, doing remedial work to correct the
deficiencies within hypertexts because they are (or were) poorly designed
and built. What if solutions are sought to avoid the problem? What
if we do things well from the start?
This paper reviews the "lost in hyperspace" problem, and suggests
a framework to understand the design and usability issues. The issues cannot
be seen as purely psychological or purely computing, they are multi-disciplinary.
Our proactive, multi-disciplinary approach is drawn from
current technologies in sub-disciplines of hypertext, human-computer interaction,
cognitive psychology and software engineering. To demonstrate these ideas,
this paper presents HyperAT, a hypertext research authoring tool, developed
to help designers build usable web documents on the World Wide Web without
Key Words: Lost in hyperspace, World Wide Web, hypertext,
human-computer interaction, software engineering, cognitive
psychology, authoring tools, design, usability.
Hypertext technology still continues to excite many, ever since it became
popular in the late 1980s. Many people then were sceptical that the technology
might just be a passing fad. The promise behind hypertext is too fundamental
to disappear quickly, and there are reasons to believe that hypertext technology
promises something special: hypertext is everywhere, from mobile phones,
television information systems (e.g., teletext), to the World Wide Web.
By the end of 1998, the Web had an estimated 100 million users. Hypertext
has affected us directly or indirectly in almost every facet of our lives,
ranging from scientific work to business and education needs, to our general
way of life.
Although hypertext users benefit from the information they read and
from the richness of associations supported by the network of nodes and
links, there are problems. The problems fall into two main classes [Conklin
1987]: problems with current implementations, which include delays
in the display of referenced
1This is an extended version of a paper presented at the WebNet '98 conference
in Orlando, Florida. The paper has received a "Top Full Paper Award".
materials and deficiencies in browsers; and
secondly, problems that seem characteristic of hypertext, such as cognitive
overload and disorientation.
Cognitive overload is the additional effort and concentration users
find necessary to maintain several tasks or trails in a hypertext at one
time. The resulting disorientation experienced by users has been called
the "lost in hyper-space" (LIH) problem. LIH can refer to any
of the following user problems [Conklin 1987, McKnight
et al. 1991, Nielsen 1996]: the problem
of not knowing where they are in the network; not knowing how to get to
some other place they know (or think) exists in the network; not knowing
how to return to a topic left previously; forgetting why they want to go
to a certain topic in the first place; the problem of forgetting what topics
they have browsed; and the problem of forgetting which key points are covered.
Ironically the LIH problem has given rise to much controversy itself.
Some think that the LIH problem is one of the most difficult issues in
hypertext research and that there is yet more to be done to ameliorate
the problem. However, there are others who believe it is not a significant
problem, and they feel that efforts should be channelled to address other
more pressing issues (such as delays, or history mechanisms). And if you
ask users what they think, they are likely to concentrate on `obvious'
problems - almost by definition a problem caused by cognitive overload
leaves little cognitive resources to notice, let alone explain, the problem!
This paper examines the LIH problem and questions whether LIH is a significant
problem that still warrants the attention of the research community.
The abbreviation LIH refers to the "lost in hyperspace" problem
throughout. For conciseness, we will call multimedia, hypermedia and the
WWW "hypertext systems" since the issues surrounding the LIH
problem with which this paper is concerned with apply to all of them.
The term "hypertext" is used to denote a hypertext document,
made up of interlinked pages or nodes. The term "hypertext system"
will refer to the software tools used to create a hypertext, and the term
"browser" to the systems that users use to read the hypertext.
Some hypertext systems are browsers.
2 Re-visiting the "lost in hyperspace" problem
In a sense LIH is the user's problem - it is they who are lost, after
all. Therefore research has been directed at improvements in the presentation
of hypertext information, the design of navigation, and in the design of
`spaces' that are more intuitive for users. Not surprisingly many research
solutions involve the use of graphical browsers and novel query/search
mechanisms. These approaches seem to make the following assumptions referenced
to users' supposed failings [Theng et al. 1997]:
users have a wrong or incomplete conceptual model; users lack experience
in using hypertext for performing tasks such as browsing; users are distracted
because of the "embedded digression problem"; and users don't
understand the chosen display conventions.
Because both hypertexts and hypertext systems are difficult to build,
many commentators are happy to seek solutions in better understanding users
helping them cope. There has, of course, been some success in this
approach - maps, virtual reality visualisation. Whilst such improvements
are welcome, even necessary, we believe they are not sufficient. Worse, it may be that
by seeking `pleasant' browsing experiences, more fundamental problems (of
which LIH is one) may be being palliated or concealed.
So we argue that perhaps wrong or inappropriate solutions are being
sought because incorrect or incomplete assumptions are made. Hypertext
design is hard, and hypertexts are used less effectively than we might
wish. The question we ask is: is LIH primarily a psychological or an engineering
problem? In other words, is LIH a problem for users, or is it a symptom
of poor design, which itself may be a psychological problem for hypertext
The answer to this question will have serious implications on the sorts
of solutions being sought to address the problem. If LIH is a psychological
problem for users, then the problem may be entirely due to their inability
to exploit computer screens, complex information structures, and that nothing
in the design is going to fundamentally ameliorate this - though the experience
might be made more pleasant.
Though disorientation arises within the user's mind (which most research
findings support) we argue that research should not rest on users alone!
The LIH is also an engineering problem. Our view implies that LIH is at
least in part, and perhaps significantly, attributable to bad system design,
and poor design causes psychological problems for users too. We believe
the user's problems can be traced back to bad browsers, bad hypertexts
and bad authoring systems - hypertext designers themselves get LIH, thus
creating problems that are more obvious with end users. We agree with [Mayes
et al. 1990] that addressing the LIH problem within hypertext
goes beyond providing more and more navigational aids. It is a deeper problem:
because hypertext authors themselves can get lost in the process of designing
and authoring hypertexts, they inadvertently contribute to poorly designed
hypertexts, which in turn leads users often being lost.
How can we find better organisational principles for hypertext? We argue
for a move away from treatment to prevention, from treating the user's
symptoms - themselves a reaction to bad design - to avoiding the bad design
[Theng et al. 1997]. We need to re-examine
the way hypertexts are designed and built. We need to examine fundamentally
how information should be structured and displayed. We should not assume
that if certain design features work well for some information contents
and purposes, it will be appropriate for others.
3 A multi-disciplinary approach to address the "lost in hyperspace"
Building systems with effective design involves a variety of skills,
drawing upon and effectively harnessing many backgrounds and disciplines
[Baecker et al. 1995]. Hypertext is no
exception. If previous attempts drawn from fields like human-computer interaction
or hypertext research are inadequate to solve this problem, then perhaps
there is a need to get help from other disciplines. Kim advocates that
where one discipline is weak, we should look for another that is strong
[Kim 1995]. We should also learn to build and use
bridges between the many
relevant disciplines and perspectives to create
the opportunities for creative synergy.
Since LIH is a complex problem, a multi-disciplinary approach seems
essential to draw upon knowledge and findings from diverse disciplines
such as human-computer interaction, software engineering and cognitive
psychology, and integrate this knowledge into hypertext. By "discipline,"
we mean the body of shared concepts and criteria collectively agreed upon
by researchers in the same field. The values defined by a discipline are
criteria for deciding what good and bad research is for that discipline.
Immediately there are problems, because `good' may be very different when
seen from each discipline! Briefly, good in human computer interaction
is typically grounded in empirical data from usability studies; good from
software engineering is typically grounded in sound engineering practice,
such as formal specification; and good in cognitive psychology is typically
grounded in models of human behaviour and performance. Academic research
may wish to promote a discipline-specific good, without seeing the wider
picture - so, for example, few software engineers are seriously concerned
with usability. This paper is concerned with ways of enabling how the concepts,
values, methods and procedures from these disciplines can be integrated
into hypertext to address the LIH problem (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Integrating commonalities among the disciplines of
human-computer interaction, software engineering and cognitive psychology
into hypertext research.
We took a breadth-first investigation of the LIH problem: this is a
productive problem-solving approach - as opposed to a reductive problem-solving
approach. A reductive problem-solving approach would be a hindrance to
a solution since it focuses on known aspects of the problem, and
therefore may not be able to see new solutions.
Figure 2 outlines an overview of the methodology taken so that more
usable hypertexts are produced. Since LIH is a complex problem involving
both engineering as well as psychological issues, there is a need to take
a step back and examine more fundamental issues. Four proactive, multi-disciplinary
approaches to eliminate, or at least ameliorate the LIH problem are proposed,
based on: design principles and guidelines; engineering, task-based approaches,
to understand users' needs; hypertext structure; and support tools for authoring.
Each of these four approaches can contribute towards an integrated solution
in the form of an authoring tool to address the LIH problem on the web.
These user-centred methods used in the methodology focus on the activities
in the "Design Stage" of a typical user-centred design cycle
as shown in Figure 3.
Figure 2: Overview of the methodology
taken to address the LIH problem.
We integrated the following principles into our approach [Baecker
et al. 1995], [Gould et al. 1991],
[Landauer 1995], [Lewis and Rieman
1993], [Nielsen 1996], [Lindgaard
- Getting to know users and their needs
It is well-known that designers often design for themselves unless they
are trained to realise that people are diverse, and that users are unlikely
to be like them. Solutions to the LIH problem should then address the issues
of helping users navigate through conceptual space. It is important to
have an accurate representation of users'
Figure 3: User-centred design cycle (adapted from [Perlman
behaviour and actions when they
perform or try to perform common tasks such as browsing, information search,
seeking references and recall. By trying to make sense of what users should
do or what they actually do, hypertext authors will stand a better chance
of producing user-centred hypertexts that meet users' needs more effectively.
- Iterative design
Interactive systems require iterative design. The most promising approach
is to iterate design and evaluation until a satisfactory result is achieved.
To make iterative design possible when facing budget or schedule constraints,
a rapid prototyping approach is used to support mocking up and trying out
interfaces and dialogues. Since disorientation can occur in a spatial network
of nodes and links, there is a need to re-look at design issues. It is
important to ensure that good hypertext design principles and guidelines
are incorporated into the building of hypertext in the first place. In
considering design principles and guidelines, there is also a need to investigate
the "best" structure for hypertext according to their functions.
- Early and continual user testing
Because it is also imperative that hyper-text authors build into the
hypertexts an accurate representation of user models when performing these
tasks, early and continual user testing is essential. This will ensure
that the system is designed to meet users' needs.
- Integrated design
All aspects of usability should evolve in parallel, rather than be
defined sequentially, and should be under one management. We integrate
these approaches onto a single hypertext system, the web, to help users
navigate around it without getting lost.
It is clear that ad hoc methods of designing, constructing and
validating hypertexts are not enough. If users get lost in hypertext, designers
must do too. This suggests that tools for designing hypertext should provide
much improved computational support for designers. We will describe a prototype
hypertext authoring tool built to help designers build well-structured
- Usability testing
To find out if the prototype hypertext authoring tool is "good
enough" to help designers produce a "good enough" hypertext,
there is a need to know how to express in quantifiable, measurable terms
when a "good" system is "good enough." Failure to do
so will render designers incapable of substantiating claims of its usability
and finding improvements in a system.
Though these approaches should contribute to improve the quality of
authoring and hence the hypertexts produced, in practice the pressures
of time, money and resources often leave designers having to come to a
compromise between implementing quick-fix solutions as opposed to searching
for effective solutions. The methodology mapped out in Figure
2 should therefore realistically be modified to accommodate elements
Though we attempt to re-consider the LIH problem from different angles
in order that solutions to address it are more complete, we do not claim
that the approach taken is the only best way to design usable, well-structured
hypertexts. One reason this might not be the case is that hypertexts differ
in their information structure and in the user tasks they support. For
example, a user checking a store's website to find out more about a certain
products would employ a different style of interaction from another user
looking for the email address of a member of a society.
4 A hypertext example: The World Wide Web
Ad hoc methods of designing, constructing and validating hypertexts
are not enough. The World Wide Web is chosen as the example to demonstrate
our ideas since it is the most widely used and largest hypertext system
ever. (In the ACM Hypertext'97 conference, John Smith's keynote address
challenged the hypertext community not to ignore developments on the web,
but to work alongside the web community.)
Nielsen predicts that due to a change in the dominating styles for web
sites over recent years, a real contribution essential for web design would
consist of further research into different knowledge areas [Nielsen
1995]: knowledge of icon design; knowledge elicitation to discover
appropriate information space structures; usability testing; and task analysis
But searching for solutions in isolated disciplines, and recommending
them to designers in the hope that they would somehow remember to put them
into practice may not be as simple as it sounds. Many factors could prevent
well-intentioned designers putting these suggestions into practice. One
would be that
designers might be overwhelmed, or might not have the time
and capacity to attend to all the authoring details.
In order for Nielsen's suggestions to be effective and implementable,
it should go beyond just providing designers with a list of `do's and `don't's.
Designers need help. If some of the ideas could be automated so that designers
need not worry about their implementation, chances are that better websites could
be produced since designers would be freed to concentrate on other critical
issues that cannot be automated, but require human judgement and expertise.
5 HyperAT: Implementation And Initial Evaluation
HyperAT is a research tool to help designers manage the complexity of
the design and validation processes without themselves getting "lost."
Multi-disciplinary approaches are integrated and culminated into a practical
authoring tool. HyperAT stands for "Hypertext Authoring Tool."
HyperAT is a prototype designer tool for authoring hypertext and web documents
(see Figure 4). The philosophy and the underlying concepts taken in the
design of the authoring and usability components in HyperAT are described
in greater detail in [Theng et al. 1997].
In the Figure, Inputs refers to the multi-disciplinary approaches that
underlie the design of the authoring and usability components. Approach
One examines design principles, and in HyperAT, it is examined in the form
of good web style guides. Approach Two emphasises the importance of understanding
users' needs and the tasks they perform. In HyperAT, we explored users'
browsing needs on the web. Approach Three stresses good structuring, and
therefore in HyperAT, good web page structure to help both designers and
users is investigated.
Besides providing the basic authoring facilities to produce web pages,
HyperAT also delivers usability evaluations to designers regarding problems
that might be detected during its analysis.
HyperAT is implemented in Macintosh Common Lisp (version 3.9) for PowerPCs.
It does not provide a full range of editing facilities with an especially
attractive interface, and it does not compete with commercial tools in
this respect. However we see HyperAT as an analytical research tool for
contextualising and delivering the results of hypertext usability to hypertext
5.1 Authoring components
The main objective of HyperAT is to help designers build usable, well-structured
hypertext. In designing the authoring components, we incorporated two underlying
design concepts, that is, the need to impose a structure, and the need
to incorporate good web style principles and guidelines.
The authoring component in HyperAT provides the basic authoring environment
for the creation and modification of hypertext. HyperAT's facilities are
accessed using a graphical, user-based interface. Hypertexts are created
via a form-like screen (see Figure 5) and converted
into predetermined HTML format, which can be displayed on the web using
a web browser. During the conversion of the hypertext into HTML, HyperAT
generates a table of contents, a hierarchical representation of the structure
of the hypertext, accessible from every page of the hypertext, using the
"contents" button. A fisheye view of related pages with respect
to users' current page is also provided to help users better understand
Figure 4: General overview of HyperAT, its inputs and
the structure of the hypertext in relation to where they are, thus ameliorating
LIH [Theng 1997]. Designers can graphically display
both global and local views of the structure of hypertext created. Hard
copies of the hypertext structure and the associated HTML coding can be
printed and kept for documentation as well as for maintenance purposes. An HTML-editor provides designers with
a menu to write HTML, without designers having to memorise HTML codes.
Other authoring aids include a generated trace of created pages during
a HyperAT session to provide useful memory jots for designers, who may
be interrupted during the HyperAT session or are simply confused over the
nodes created. Another is a generated global map showing the structure
of the hypertext with its constituent nodes. Clicking onto a node will
bring up another map, with that node as the root node, providing designers
with a fisheye view cancelling off other details not related to it.
We built in some established website design principles and guidelines
to illustrate that some can be automated in an authoring tool without designers
having to worry about their implementation. Thus, every web page has a
standard "look and feel" with navigational buttons at the top
and bottom. Each web page contains essential elements like the title, author,
date and time of creation, button bars which represent fixed links that
allow users to move to content page,
Figure 5: Entry screen for creating
nodes in HyperAT.
previous page, or next page. Links
to other related web pages are also generated for each web page so that
users can have a better understanding of how they can obtain related materials.
HyperAT also provides users with prospective information by generating
the title of the pages users would move to if they were to click onto the
navigational buttons. Because these prospective views that accompany navigational
buttons are not hard-coded but are automatically generated by HyperAT,
no extra effort is required from designers to ensure the inclusion and
maintenance of this feature.
5.2 Usability Components
For the usability components, HyperAT incorporates features that help
designers to better understand users and their browsing behaviour. Hence,
apart from the basic editing facilities of create, edit and save, an experimental,
authoring testbed allows hypertext designers to carry out different modes
of usability testing on the hypertext created by HyperAT: (see Section
5.2.1) structural analysis and (see Section 5.2.2)
real user evaluation.
5.2.1 Structural Analysis
Not only do we want to help designers structure information, we also
want them to avoid structural inconsistencies and mistakes. HyperAT allows
designers to analyse structure by performing integrity checks on the nodes
and links, and
secondly, measuring the complexity of the structure of hypertext.
The metrics implemented to measure the complexity of the structure of the
hypertext are: number of nodes; number of links per node; all possible
paths from a given node; depth of a structure; number of successors; and
others can be added. In
HyperAt, we have implemented some possibilities. Such structural analysis
of the hypertext alerts designers to take corrective measures as early
as possible in the design process before it is too late, and often before
much effort has been spent on contributing context.
5.2.2 Real User Evaluation
Real user evaluation is important because hypertext are designed for
users and not just what designers think or feel are important. Real users
can be employed to evaluate hypertext on the web with their transactions
logged by the server log files [Berners-Lee 1995].
However, Berners-Lee cautions that analysing the server log files takes
time if designers have to do it manually. To help designers analyse log
files, HyperAT has a facility that parses and analyses server log files
and interprets them, providing designers with useful insights into understanding
users' browsing pattern. This data can be useful design aids to pin-point
usability problems, and to guide design decisions. HyperAT also measures:
frequencies of visits; clients' browsing information; pages visited; and
clients visited - and so on.
5.3 Initial Evaluation
We carried out initial evaluation of HyperAT to get qualitative results
and impressions on its usefulness and usability as a web authoring tool
by: (see Section 5.3.1) comparing web documents made with and without it;
(see Section 5.3.2) getting feedback from hypertext
designers; and (see Section 5.3.3) comparing it with
5.3.1 Comparing Web Documents
The main objective is to compare a website re-constructed by HyperAT
with the original website produced by the original creator of the website
using a standard HTML editor. Figure 6 shows a sample
web page of the "Childnet International" website created by AtlasWWW,
the original creator. Figure 7 shows the same web page
created by HyperAT. It is to be noted that by using HyperAT, not only was
the original "Childnet International" index page re-created but
useful information for each web page to help user navigation were automatically
generated. They include the automatic generation of text-labelled navigational
buttons with prospective views, local views of related pages in relation
to users' current page, table of contents providing a global view of the
structure of the "Childnet International" website. For easier
printing, a feature to print the website as a single document is also incorporated
in this web page. Other automatically-generated information such as the
date and time of creation, and creator of the web document, are also displayed
in the "table of contents" web page (see Figure
We have shown that HyperAT is capable of creating any web document produced
by any standard HTML editor. In contrast with the original web page,
web page generated by HyperAT contains navigational aids that are useful
for effective user navigation. Because these aids are automatically generated
by HyperAT, incorporating them into the web page would require little or
no effort from designers. Designers can then concentrate on the content
of the web documents, thus increasing the chance of producing better, usable
Figure 6: A sample web page from the original
Childnet International website.
Figure 7: A web page generated by HyperAT,
showing the automatically generated navigational information; compare with
5.3.2 Getting Feedback From Hypertext Designers
We selected three subjects which consisted of two researchers and one
lecturer to help us to evaluate HyperAT. The researchers worked at the
Interaction Design Centre (Middlesex University), and their research project
was to design and develop the Royal Society of Arts web pages. They were
chosen because they were experienced in web design. The lecturer was from
the School of Computing Science (Middlesex University) teaching undergraduates
web design. He was chosen
Figure 8: Generated "table of
to take on the role of a less experienced designer
and thus able to highlight potential problems novice designers may encounter.
Each of the subjects was given a 15 minute guided tour of HyperAT covering
both the authoring and usability components of HyperAT. They were then
asked to give feedback on whether the authoring features implemented in
HyperAT were useful: creation of nodes and links; generation of map and
structure; editing facilities; tracking and checking; testing and evaluation;
and capturing users' browsing pattern. The subjects were also asked to
comment on the usability of HyperAT.
The feedback gathered from the subjects indicates that HyperAT is a
useful tool for designing usable web documents. The subjects indicated
that all the features implemented in HyperAT are useful in helping designers
develop usable web documents. They found the built-in functions for the
creation of nodes and links useful. The subjects found the hierarchical
structuring simple and intuitive. Because HyperAT separates page content
from structure, the subjects felt it would help them concentrate on the
content. The automatic generation of overall map and structure was a good
feature to provide designers with a graphical overview of the web document.
The subjects were also impressed that many processes in HyperAT were automated. These include the automatic structuring
of web pages, generated "table of contents" and generated trace
of created nodes. The subjects liked the different levels of usability
testing HyperAT can perform. For example, facilities to check the structural
inconsistencies and complexity were seen as helpful features. The ability
to switch from the author mode in the HyperAT environment to the user mode
in the Netscape environment was
perceived as a useful feature. What makes
an impression on the subjects is the idea that HyperAT is capable of parsing
server log files, and analysing them to provide information about users'
browsing pattern. They also liked the idea of HyperAT parsing and converting
an existing website into a structure recognised by HyperAT.
With regard to the usability of HyperAT, it was difficult for the subjects
to make any conclusive remarks without actually using the tool. However,
the impression they obtained from the guided tour was that HyperAT appeared
to be fairly easy to use, once they got used to working with it.
The subjects also made some suggestions to further improve HyperAT.
These suggestions basically involve making HyperAT more sophisticated in
order to handle even more complex designer needs. One comment against HyperAT
is that though the hierarchical structuring process to create nodes and
links is intuitive, it may be too restrictive. The suggestion is to provide
designers with meta-templates to select the different structuring processes.
It is also suggested that different templates could also be provided for
designers to select the different visual styles of web pages. Another feature
that needs further enhancement is to allow for easier modification of the
structure based on a "drag-and-drop" feature, and that updating
could be done in real-time. To make the analysis of the transaction log files more useful to designers, it is suggested
that the map should show the most common paths based on analysis of the
transaction log files.
5.3.3 Comparing HyperAT With Other Tools
The task of comparing HyperAT with other tools, be it commercial or
research, is not an easy one owing to a plethora of tools available. We
carried out a comparison of HyperAT with four selected tools (two commercial
and two research) to highlight the benefits and limitations of HyperAT.
Compared with HyperAT, NetObjects Fusion is a more powerful page editor
and site management tool, allowing designers to create, view and modify
site structure graphically. Like HyperAT, it also gives semantics to the
relationships between web pages. Although NetObjects Fusion provides analysis
of the web documents, there is no attempt to integrate these analysis to
make the necessary changes to the design of web documents. Microsoft FrontPage
is another popular tool for managing websites and editing individual pages.
Similar to HyperAT, it automatically generates scheduled inserts, table
of contents, etc. Unlike NetObjects Fusion, it does not allow for direct
alteration of site structure. It provides more utilities over the whole
website such as spell checking and external link verification, compared
WebWriter shares a similar view with HyperAT in that both are integrated
systems for constructing web applications that support the creation of
web pages. Crespo and Bier explain that inspired by the HyperCard system,
WebWriter allows designers to build an application as a sequence of web
pages, where each web page can contain text, images, HTML forms, and the
content that is computed on the fly by WebWriter scripts [Crespo
and Bier 1996]. HyperAT in allowing users to construct an application
through a simple form-like interface automatically creates parent-child
relationships between pages, instead of linear relationships captured by
WebWriter. However, WebWriter's direct manipulation feature makes editing
easier and less cumbersome compared to HyperAT.
Gentler is a web authoring tool developed to overcome authoring difficulties
encountered by designers [Thimbleby 1997]. To make
web authoring more systematic, Gentler uses a database of pages and a page
layout language, as well as reliable design features including hypertext
linkage and navigation. Like HyperAT, Gentler aims to reduce the cognitive
load of authors, particularly by separating content and design, and by
supporting quality control. Compared to HyperAT, Gentler provides a more
powerful, flexible support for mathematical analysis of the hypertext structure.
However, HyperAT has the ability perform more than just formal analysis
of the hypertext structure. It has a program parser to read and analyse
users' log files in order to understand users' browsing behaviour and goals.
It is believed that by providing another way of conducting usability testing
within HyperAT, designers may be able to gain useful insights into hypertext
structural designs relating to cognitive issues from different angles based
not only on formal analysis but on real users' behaviour.
This paper described HyperAT, a research tool to help designers develop
usable web documents. On the basis of our experience developing it, we
argued for a
move from treatment to prevention; from treating users' symptoms, to
avoiding bad design.
Initial evaluation shows that HyperAT does a useful job as a research
tool in exploring authoring and usability issues. Compared with other tools,
a distinguishing factor of HyperAT is that, besides providing the basic
authoring facilities to produce web documents, it delivers usability results
to designers regarding any usability problems that might be detected during
its analysis. Because both the authoring and usability components are found
within HyperAT, it would be viable as a future enhancement to HyperAT to
integrate the usability results into the authoring process to allow designers
to make necessary changes to the web documents more easily.
Thus we conclude that tools like HyperAT - that structure and analyse
web sites, etc., as discussed - are helpful to web authoring, and hence
useful for web users.
Work with HyperAT involves a more extensive evaluation with different
types of designers (e.g., novice, intermediate, experienced), as well as
strengthening the usability environment it can offer to help designers
build better, usable web pages. This will be our future work.
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