Session 26

The Web: Critique and Design


Software Systems

Exercise 38.1: The Web as a Direct Manipulation Interface

From at least one perspective, the world wide web is nothing new. It's just a direct manipulation interface, right? Or is it?

Using the criteria developed in Chapter 6 and extended in class discussion, critique the web as a direct manipulation interface. To what is it an interface? How well does it stack up from the user's perspective? You should think about this problem primarily as a user, but feel free to make any comments that come your personal experiences with HTML, Java, CGI, etc. -- if they are relevant.

As a part of your brief discussion, write-up the following:

The tangible result of your work will be your write-up. We will also discuss your solutions as a group.

Summary of Discussion

We need to make a distinction between the "web" itself and the browsers that let you look at material on the web. The web is a lot of things: a communication protocol, a set of computers that communicate using the protocol, and the documents on those computers. From the user's perspective, you might think of the web as a model, a distributed file system. The browser is the view...

What criteria should we use to just the web as interface to a world-wide distributed file system? It seems to score high on the criteria in Box 6-1 (Page 229). Hypertext links correspond to user actions. Icons and image maps can be used as selection cues. But is it really direct manipulation?

Most pages are not--they are simply menus presented in a more interesting form? But the web allows for direct manipulation, and folks working on Java-based and VRML-based solutions are moving in that direction. The hardware most folks have has not traditionally been able to meet the resource demands of these interfaces, but that is changing.

You might think of the web as constituting three interfaces:

These are all open research questions, by the way.

Exercise 38.2: A Critique of W4

Work with the same people as you did on Exercise 38.1.

Okay, here's your chance. You know you all want to do it. You get to give me a grade. More specifically, I'd like you to evaluate my course web space. Begin your discussions by focusing on the 171 web, but feel free to include your experience with webs from other course you've had me for (051, 052, 053, 154, 161).

Use the criteria spelled out in Chapter 16. I suggest that you focus specifically on the criteria given on Page 556 and Pages 558-559. You may also want to consider the low level factors outlined in Section 16.6.5.

Be as honest and as fair as you can. I have a pretty thick skin and am able to take professional criticism pretty well. Just don't make it personal. (For example, my mother has nothing to do with my web pages.) And, if you base your criticisms on criteria outlined by Shneiderman, you can always blame him! :-)

Your analysis should address these items, in order:

The tangible result of your work will be a write-up of these three points -- and an optional letter grade :-) -- and a small critique done in class.

Summary of Discussion

More soon... But: someone suggested anchors for the weeks in the sessions table, so that you could get to the bottom sooner. Another suggested making it easier to get to the courses from my home page, maybe having links to the courses in place of the "Courses I Teach" link. Yet another suggested renaming courses.html as index.html.

Many of these issues are perfect examples of what we talk about in this course: the system creator (me) expected somewhat different behavior from the users (y'all) and so designed an interface with those needs in mind. User behavior differs, though, and so the interface needs some tweaking...

Exercise 39: Organizing a Hypertext Document for the Web

Work with the same people as you did on the Exercises 38.

When implementing a web site such as one of my course webs, one of the things I have the most trouble doing is changing my writing style so that the Third Golden Rule of Hypertext is satisfied: "The user needs only a small fraction of the fragments at any time." Those of you who have downloaded ten-page session summaries from 051 or 154 know what I'm talking about.

I can think of two basic ways to package material in a web space, say for a course or a book. One is by session or chapter.

    7. Menu Selection, Form Fillin, and Dialog Boxes
       7.1 Introduction
       7.2 Task-Related Organization
           7.2.1 Single menus
           7.2.2 Linear sequences and multiple menus
           7.2.3 Tree-structured menus
           7.2.4 Acyclic and cyclic menu networks
       7.3 Item Presentation Sequence
       7.4 Response Time and Display Rate
       7.5 Fast Movement Through Menus
           7.5.1 Menus with typeahead: the BLT approach
           7.5.2 Menu names or bookmarks for direct access
           7.5.3 Menu macros, custom toolbars, and style sheets
       7.6 Menu Layout
           7.6.1 Titles
           7.6.2 Phrasing of menu items
           7.6.3 Graphic layout and design

This approach groups topics into larger, coherent units.

Another is to create a web of low-level topics.

This approach would break up the pages of the space into smaller units, with lots of links to cross-reference material so that users could read about things on demand.

As a group, identify three scenarios:

For each of the first two scenarios, identify the advantages of using a single design approach in the scenario. Consider both the perspective of the user and the perspective of the implementor. For the third scenario, explain why you are willing to give up the advantages of a single approach for a mixture. Again, consider both perspectives. As always, make your recommendations based on the principles and evidence outlined in Designing the User Interface.

The tangible result of your work will be a write-up of these three points. We will also discuss your solutions as a group.

Eugene Wallingford ==== ==== April 12, 2001