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Site Maps
by Juan C. Dürsteler [message nº 47]

Sitemaps are one of the many navigation elements. Nevertheless, there are few examples of them that improve other simpler navigation ways.

We could define a web's sitemap as the graphical representation of its information structure. It can be considered as a visual navigation element that allows you to build an idea out of the information architecture of a web site in its entirety. 

Although many times mere textual indices with hyperlinks are called sitemaps, we'll consider here only those with graphical contents.

A web site is a hypertext, multimedia system that can contain, text, images, sounds and an (ever-increasing) list of elements. Its hypertextual nature, with ubiquitous links to other parts of the web, makes it a highly non-linear medium. 

Instead of what happens with a book, which is read in a linear sequence, one page after another, in a web site the access to a particular page can be unpredictable.

This medium's non linearity introduces, according to Paul Kahn in its seminar "Mapping Web Sites"  section Navigation Problems), specific types of problems:
  • Disorientation: the tendency to get lost inside a web site.

  • Cognitive overload: the additional effort needed to maintain several tasks or trails at the same time.

  • The absence of a physical context: you see only one page at a time.

  • Increase of the need of graphical context cues, that reinforce in each page the idea of what the contents of the web is.

  • The lack of control over the "rhetoric of arrival". You can reach a particular web page in many ways, even from outside of the web site itself.

For these reasons, to represent in a visual and, above all, understandable way the web of links and the information architecture of a web site is by no means an easy task.

Paul Kahn himself, president of Dynamic Diagrams, together with Krzysztof Lenk has edited an interesting book titled "Mapping Web Sites"  devoted to the multiple ways to produce sitemaps, among which you can find the interactive sitemap of his company, dedicated to Information Design.

Dynamic Diagrams sitemaps (see the images that accompany this article or those in the web site itself), are isometric projections of interactive billboards ordered hierarchically that represent each one of the pages of the website and the relations between them. 

By hovering with the mouse over them you can see the title. Clicking on one page, the map of the hierarchy that "hangs" from that page appears (if there is one). Double clicking on the page takes you to the page in HTML format. It's worth taking a look at them

DynDiag1.gif (10108 bytes)

One of the views of the site map of  Dynamic Diagrams. (Click to enlarge the image)

DynDiag2.gif (12314 bytes)

The previous view with the mouse over the first raw of pages. (Click to enlarge the image)

There are other examples of sitemaps representative of the different approaches to the problem, as we'll see in the next article.

Meanwhile the key question we have to raise is:

Is making sitemaps advantageous over other simpler techniques that also address the problems derived from the non-linearity of the web?

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