So, in previous comments threads on this site, there's been a fair amount of discussion as to the spatial nature of information, much to Stewart's chagrin. Stewart's point there was that "perception and cognition don't go on in a spatial framework," and that utilizing spatial metaphors ("navigation", "information space") is a bad path for thinking through the design of facilitating how people interact with information.
So, I was most intrigued when I saw that David Weinberger, of JOHO fame, had a chapter in his upcoming book (Small Pieces Loosely Joined) called "The Web Place," his attempt to answer the question, "Why do we perceive the Web as a place when, in fact, it isn't?"
Weinberger concludes that
We began by asking why the Web seems so spatial even though it clearly doesn’t exist in space. It turns out that our question was confused, as so often is the case with questions that stump us. The Web feels spatial because it’s “place-ial,” and, because until now all our places have been in space, when we see a place we assume it must exist in space. Then we make a set of assumptions based on taking space as measurable and abstract. What would look anomalous — or just plain weird — in our spatial world makes perfect sense on the Web, once we remember the Web is “place-ial” but not spatial: we can move from place to place but without having to traverse distance; we can arrange places the way we want without worrying about violating the rule that two objects can’t occupy the same space at the same time; the symmetry of nearness can be broken.
So, tying it all together, whether or not cognition occurs in a spatial framework, it seems that our interaction with information on the Web does. Maybe it's this break that is the cause of the problems we witness? Something like, our users have mental models of these document collections as "spaces," yet, "space" doesn't really map to how they think about the information in those documents, and this discrepancy causes a breakdown?
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Cyberspace is dead space, man.
THAT`s what kind of space it is.
Posted by Phreakydude @ 12/21/2001 11:36 PM PST [link to this comment]
Peter, thanks for the post. I am finding I am quite intrigued with the Weinberger observation. My mind is also tweaked from the previous discussions here that there may be an alternate or coexisting metaphor that my help break the spatial model hold. There seems to be many approaches that go beyond the spatial limitations.
The limitations are found when considering "call and response" methods of asking for and retrieving information. The community and conversation methods run into spatial problems as there is a lack of a full context, or rather the ability to cross associate is limited in the Web environment and even more so in the wireless environment. The limitations are not necessarily spatial in nature, but more cogitative in nature. We use our sensory clues to help associate information to experiences. The Web does not often offer a face, voice, or an understanding of its place in mental map. I know Peter and can easily tie his comments to a mental understanding of his views and background that give context to his written words. I know that when Peter talks of IA he is not talking about intellectual ambivalence. Colors and other style components on a site add depth to the cognitive understanding through experiencial design. When these elements get translated to a mobile device that has a screen width of 120 pixels and has 8 shades of greyscale these elements can be lost also.
Posted by vanderwal @ 12/22/2001 07:14 PM PST [link to this comment]
here's an interesting snippet from a scholarly dissertation (PDF):
Researchers have shown that hypermedia, databases, and hierarchical file systems have a spatial character (Akin, Baykan, and Rao 1987; Benyon and Murray 1993; Dahlbäck, Höök, and Sjölinder 1996; Vicente and Williges 1988). Specifically, the organization of their contents has a spatial structure. Furthermore, there is evidence showing that users with high spatial ability outperform users with low spatial ability for tasks of seeking information in such types of environment (Benyon and Murray 1993; Dahlbäck , Höök, and Sjölinder 1996; Vicente and Williges 1988).
btw: that PDF has NINE pages of bibliographic references, so plenty of leads to go chase :-)
Posted by Eric Scheid @ 12/27/2001 07:11 AM PST [link to this comment]
from an online dissertation:
Researchers have shown that hypermedia, databases, and hierarchical file systems have a spatial character (Ak?n, Baykan, and Rao 1987; Benyon and Murray 1993; Dahlbäck, Höök, and Sjölinder 1996; Vicente and Williges 1988). Specifically, the organization of their contents has a spatial structure. Furthermore, there is evidence showing that users with high spatial ability outperform users with low spatial ability for tasks of seeking information in such types of environment (Benyon and Murray 1993; Dahlbäck , Höök, and Sjölinder 1996; Vicente and Williges 1988).
but then goes on to say:
On the other hand, Norman (1993, pp. 175-180) has argued against the use of navigation metaphor. He indicates that this metaphor relies on spatial organization, which only works when the space is small and when a natural mapping between the information items and the spatial location exists. In the context of large information spaces, Norman proposes a retrieval-by-description alternative based on the way people retrieve information from their memory: think of a telephone number, and out it comes. However, he has overlooked the fact that knowing the structure of an information space may be as important as finding a specific piece of information in that space. For example, Doerry et al. (1997) in their work on the design of a database for research geneticists have found that, while users have little trouble finding specific data, they frequently become confused during multi-step data manipulation that requires the understanding of relationships between these data. In generative design systems, knowing the relationships between different pieces of information created during a design session is important to the designers (as discussed in the previous section). Therefore, the retrieval-by-description method suggested by Norman cannot provide adequate support for generative design systems.
Posted by Eric Scheid @ 12/27/2001 06:04 PM PST [link to this comment]
Paul Dourish has done a lot of thinking about Space vs. Place. He wrote Re-Placing Space: The Roles of Place and Space in Collaborative Systems"
Also, he and Matthew Chalmers wrote "Running out of Space" which talks about metaphors for navigation. They propose 3 types of navigation: spatial, semantic, and social.
NOTE: It's extremely worthwhile to spend some time digging around Paul and Matthew's sites. Lots of good stuff there.
Posted by tpodd @ 12/30/2001 08:20 AM PST [link to this comment]
Richard Fenwick created an interesting short video relating to peoples perceptions of where and what the internet is.
and here 'tis:
Posted by Graham Hicks @ 01/04/2002 08:19 AM PST [link to this comment]
Cool video - I wish it was a little less like a clever prank call and went a little bit deeper, but a great slant on the (mis)application of traditional concepts of space/property to the internet. [Downloaders: note that it is 49MB.]
Posted by Stewart @ 01/09/2002 12:15 AM PST [link to this comment]
I'd like to put in my two bits for the spatial character of cognition. Even to say 'content' (the stuff people put on websites, the stuff conveyed by words, the stuff that's in or on our minds) implies an ontology of things with insides and outsides - a geometry, a topology. What else are we to imagine the categories are that support drawing the inferences (Fido is a dog, dogs are animals, animals are alive, what lives will die, Fido will die) that we are led to? What is a mathematical 'set' but something with an inside (those things that are members of the set) and an outside (those things that aren't)? Cognition, under a certain widely held conception of the word, seems largely about being able to make such inferences.
(And why do we say 'largely'? Where does the largeness come from? Where possibly, but a native and preverbal comprehension of spatial relations. But even to say 'spatial relation' is a pleonasm. How else are we to understand abstract relations but in spatial terms? Words or ideas can be close to each other, or far apart. A description or explanation can be nearer the truth of the matter than another. How else, in what other language, could we express their nearness and farness?)
Doug Hofstadter somewhere defined meaning (at least what philosophers and cognitive scientists mean when they talk about 'the problem of meaning') as 'the aboutness of aboutness'. What is it for something to be 'about' something? What if to be 'about' something was to be literally _about_ the thing? Close to it, part of a cluster or constellation or penumbra of words, images, related concepts and connotations that are connected to and surround the thing. What if our awareness of things, our understanding of what something is, of what it means for something to be a thing of this kind, was in a fundamental and indeed proprioceptive sense, a 'whereness'?
Interesting to see the recent revival, among logicians, of logical diagrams, the making of maps, thinking in pictures. Or consider that the cognitive linguistics of Lakoff, Langacker et al., for a time went by the name 'space grammar', so central a place do spatial notions occupy in their account of the metaphors that they believe underlie abstract thinking and how people do things with language.
Posted by Derek Robinson @ 01/12/2002 10:47 AM PST [link to this comment]
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