Tree Structure

[WebsitePatterns]

Problem

It is easy to get lost in the tangle of links that make up a Web site.

Context

A Web site with cross-links between pages but an obvious hierarchical organization of topics.

Solution

Emphasize the tree-structure of the content of the site: on each page, include VisibleContext to show where the page fits into the tree. The VisibleContext might include the path from the root to the current page and the siblings of the current page that are at the same level in the tree. It might also be possible to include the children of the current page.

Resulting Context

The tree-structure is made obvious to the user.

The VisibleContext showing the path to the current page acts as links to "vantage points" to allow EasyOrientation if lost in the lower levels of the tree.

Known Uses

The structure of many sites owned by organizations match the hierarchical structure of the organization itself.

-- NatPryce


Examples

An example site that has literalized the tree metaphor for its organization is Gideon Burton's The Forest of Rhetoric: http://humanities.byu.edu/rhetoric/silva.htm.

Another one is http://www.xmltree.com, which indexes free content syndicated via XML.

A nice one is http://www.physicstree.net - it uses flash 8.


I would consider structuring your site after your org chart a mistake. A user doesn't care how you're organized - they just care about what you can do for them. As an extreme example, on the hospital site I keep mentioning (it's not the only site I've ever done, just the biggest), we kept getting hung up on the differences between "departments", "programs", and "services", especially since the name of a "service" might contain the word "program". The distinction only mattered to people inside the hospital, not to patients, their parents, or outside physicians.

On the other hand, there's always a HiddenAudience for a Web site, and that audience is generally the company's management above those responsible for the site. If you can keep the HiddenAudience happy by having an area that reflects the company's structure, it probably won't hurt.

-- RobCrawford

Agreed. If the users of your site are not interested in your organizational structure, then don't organize your Web in that way. However, often users are interested in that structure. Or, at a high level, it provides for EasyOrientation.

Take most university sites, for example. From my own experience, I need to find a paper written on a particular topic by a particular person, or I need to download software written for a particular purpose. So I start at the university's home page, browse to the appropriate department, then to the appropriate research group, and then either to a personal home page or to a list of papers/software.

However, this kind of usage is only one of many that should be supported. Other uses should also be supported. For example, potential students have different needs and use different structures. Therefore, sites need MultipleCrossSections of the information they contain.

-- NatPryce

On MultipleCrossSections, this is what personalization is all about. I don't mean last year's overhyped fashion, but creating cross-sections meaningful for each of your sites user's roles. It could be as simple as: a few links on the homepage: I'm a student | researcher | staff member | etc. Personalization takes this scheme to an extreme, with customized views for each user.

-- PieterVerbaarschott

Another problem: A co-worker just got back from Web98, and during a presentation, JaredSpool? claimed that users apparently don't know or care how the site's organized. They "navigate in the moment", with apparently no memory about what was on previous pages.

That's not to say that organization isn't important - if for nothing else a good information architecture makes it easier to maintain - but you shouldn't expect for organization to make an impact on users. For end users, it appears that EasyOrientation is more important.

-- RobCrawford


See TreeEditor, LimitsOfHierarchies

EditText of this page (last edited July 16, 2006) or FindPage with title or text search