April 4, 2003
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Lost in Navigation

The IA Summit Panel on Wayfinding and Navigation really caught people's imagination, it seems. Rashmi Sinha, the moderator, caught the right topic at the right moment and nicely crystalized a new meme, paraphrased prettily by Dorelle Rabinowitz:

We talk about navigating when we mean understanding.

Matt Jones, catching up on the action from afar, seizes on this as a crucial point -- and I think it is an emerging consensus. Amy Lee's notes are an interesting record here, capturing both shifting nuance among the panelists as well as developing opinion in the audience and community.

In particular, Lee captures an aspect of my own position that I had not yet fully understood myself. I was taken aback to read her precis of Susan Campbell's position:

Spatial metaphors can work (opposite of Mark).

"How can this be right?", I ask myself. After all, I work in spatial hypertext, I build spatial hypertext systems, the highpoint of my slides was a snazzy glimpse at a Tinderbox map of Jill's weblog.

But Lee is right: I believe in space, but not in spatial metaphor. Tools like Tinderbox let you use space directly: you can, for example, put things next to each other to say "these are related", or arrange things in messy clusters to say "all of these belong together". This works. It's important and effective. But when you start making the screen stand for something else, when you start pretending those piles are papers stacked on a desk of volumes neatly arranged on shelves, when you start drawing shiny wire bindings on the edge of your notes -- that's a sign that you're not using space, you're simply representing it.

I've made a CD of my panel slides, along with slides from my IA Summit talk on Gardens and Manifestos and my Dust or Magic talk about "Ideas in a Non-Ideal World" -- a rant about hypertext criticism. Keynote, PowerPoint, and pdf versions of everything, so you shouldn't have too much trouble reading them on your favorite platform. If you'll send me your postal address, for a limited time I'll send you the slides on CD. Email bernstein@eastgate.com.