site map mania

I have insomnia, and am reading the latest alertbox Site Map Usability. You read it too, and let […]

I have insomnia, and am reading the latest alertbox Site Map Usability. You read it too, and let me know what you think.

My reaction was basically that he has got the core issue wrong: yes a site map might be useful, but does it have to be in the traditional form of a dedicated page that lists every single page in the site? and how well does the user have to be able to picture the IA to use the site?

What is the nature of a site map? A display of the contents of the site, displaying breadth and range. I remember Peter telling me that the only reason epinions had a yahoo-style directory on the front page was to demonstrate the range of content they had. it wasn’t a particularly useful navigation scheme otherwise.

So maybe we just need to rethink our concept of a site map… maybe it’s like xplane’s global bottom-of-the-page map. or maybe it’s simply an index page, or a yahoo-directory.

When we make maps, we don’t always map every stone in the path– why should a site map be different? Perhaps a useful map that is accessible and grokable by users is more like the wall maps of the world on my homeroom walls as I grew up in Iowa– not one showed my home town.
(Actually I was happy if they showed Iowa. You are somewhere!)

He does say a site map should be two-and-a-half screen, but gives no advice on how to accomplish it. Perhaps suggesting something like “only two levels of hierarchy” might stop some clever folks from using 6 point type to keep their site within jakobian limits.

So what is the appropriate level of detail. That should be decided site-by-site basis, in a collaborative effort between designer and human-factors specialist.

All in all, the man is quotable: “If you wait long enough, you might become King of Sweden, but we can’t wait for Microsoft as our only hope for improved website navigation.”

Okay, off to bed.


Add Yours
  1. 1
    Joshua Kaufman

    It doesn’t have be a dedicated page that lists every major section of the site, but as Jakob notes, users don’t like to figure out a new way of doing things with every Web site that they visit.

    I especially like Xplane’s global bottom of the page map because it displays a concise map of the site where most users will be able to find it easily. However, since it’s on every page, why not make it every more useful by including a “you are here” or “you are this section” as Jakob suggests?

    I do think that displaying the site map as a standard browser element is the best answer. (I actually thought of that a long time ago but who the hell am I?) But please please please don’t wait for Microsoft to do this. If this is going to be a true standard, it needs to start at the top.

  2. 2
    Angie McKaig

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently but I really wonder about the value of a detailed site map as web site content seems to grow exponentially each year. Rather than putting the onus on the user – who must read and understand a site map – why not focus more on intelligent search capabilities? More on these thoughts here. Do I *have* to understand the IA to use the site?

  3. 3

    Good points but the typical corporate Web site is not going to grow exponentially each year. The need for a simple visualization tool is just as important as an intelligent search.

  4. 4
    JS Bracher

    For me, both as a user and when designing sites, I use maps for a quick list of all the content on a site, and to provide quick links to pages.

    This last purpose is also useful when I haven’t figured out what vocabulary is being used on a site. It can show me how the terms/pages/sections are organized, which can suggest pages to look at for the info I want.

    This makes it a handy alternative path to searching or browsing.

  5. 5
    Tim Monck-Mason

    Good navigation systems mean no site map is needed. Okay, maybe for huge sites. But any small to average size site should be able to contain its contents in well labelled level 1 and 2 pages that are easily shown in the home page nav. Then only a search feature is needed, if desired.
    I’ve been asked to add site maps to sites where they have had feedback claiming it is hard to find things – but the problem has always been poor structural design of the information, poor labelling, and/or poor navigation design. Fix them and throw the site map out.

  6. 6

    I wrote this report a while back (feb 2000), and from the research I did back then I definitely believe in sitemaps for certain types of sites. (depending on size and type of content mostly)

    I was considering having a sitemap as homepage, and the comment “many users prefer going to the homepage to get an idea of what is on the site” makes that seem a good idea now. I may just go ahead with it.

    I already had a sitemap on every page, but hadn’t thought to include “You are here”, which ofcourse is a no brainer. I’ll include it if possible.

    I will relaunch the site where this sitemap on every page is used soon, with the modifications, and (if I have time) I will do some tracking on it’s usefulness and publish the reports. (That is if my jobhunt doesn’t work out too soon 😉

    And on the “do you need to get the IA to use a site” I would answer a resounding “No way”. I always see people showing very adaptive browsing behaviour, they don’t have a clue about the IA, they often don’t even notice they’ve landed on a different site. But they still can use the site.

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