Left Bay’s Musings on the Media

Searching for answers in sales and marketing

Navigating the Informational Space

Recently in the SearchEngineLand blog, Gord Hotchkiss posted an incredibly interesting blog about navigational landscapes in offline and online spaces. It’s definitely a more strategic way of thinking about navigation, especially when you apply these theories to cyberspaces.

To summarize his post (although if you have time I strongly urge reading it yourself), there are three types of knowledge that humans gain when attempting to navigate physical space. These are:

Landscape knowledge – The first level of understanding navigation of a physical space. Humans naturally seek landmarks or reference points when attempting to reach a destination that may or may not be new.

Route knowledge – The second level. Route knowledge develops as humans begin to go from landmark to landmark and start internalizing the route. The steps to get to a place become slowly ingrained and memorized so humans are able to retrace or relay them.

Survey knowledge – This third level of navigating spaces is gained when humans begin to have an abstract understanding of a space and its various routes and destinations. We are able to imagine the destination in our heads and intuitively know different routes and how they will each get us there.

This translates quite nicely to online spaces, where users note specific landmarks on websites and consequently learn routes to certain online destinations. Hotchkiss makes a specific connection between physical landmarks and search engines, and that more often than not, most online navigation paths begin at a search engine. Even more interesting, when users begin to gain online route knowledge, it is likely that instead of returning directly to the website, many users remember the query they used to find that specific website, and the location on the results page of the link they clicked, and ultimately revert to the search engine to retrace their routes.

As we begin to understand more about navigational behaviors in humans in both physical and information spaces, usability is going to take on a whole new meaning.

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