[Editor’s note: Allowing multiple access points to browse into a dataset using spatial ideas from cartography (see also GeoName’s post on the relational ontology / the semantic web).]
Republished from Cartogrammar. June 1, 2009.
There’s a lot of information on the internet, if you haven’t noticed. Far too much for any mere human to wade through. And that’s why we find simple beauty in Google. Instead of overwhelming us with links and content, its home page provides a single search field. “Remain calm,” it says in a soothing but vaguely sinister voice, “just tell us what you’re looking for and we’ll bring it to you.” But God help you if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
Okay, it’s not that bad. Research and debate about searching versus browsing behaviors have played out over centuries (assuming that measurement of time in this information age is something akin to dog years), and it seems safe to say that most of the time information can be accessed by either means. Back in the wild days of the 1990s, web usability guru Jakob Nielsen found that “half of all users are search-dominant, about a fifth of the users are link-dominant [browsing], and the rest exhibit mixed behavior” and argued that “[d]espite the primacy of search, webdesign still needs to grounded in a strong sense of structure and navigation support” for the sake of not only those link-dominant users but everyone else too (link). Most of the web seems to adhere to that principle, but it’s a search-based world out there.
And I kind of hate it.
Sure, it’s obviously crucial to be able to search for what I’m looking for, but I’m not always looking for anything in particular. I want to explore or, to frame it (perhaps more accurately) in terms of mental lethargy, to avoid having to think of something to look for. It’s like Christmas shopping for all my relatives: as torturous as it already is, if I weren’t able to browse store shelves and instead had to think of specific gifts to ask the shopkeeper for, I’d probably collapse and bust into tears. (I titled this post after Steve Krug’s wonderful “common sense” book on web usability Don’t Make Me Think, not that I’m quite what he was talking about.) It bugs the hell out of me whenever I go to check out the newest Coolest Web Tool or Visualization Ever, only to find that I must think of something to search for in order to see it in action.