Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Cowpaths in Hyperspace

Greetings from the Australian Demographic & Social Research Institute (ADSRI) at the Australian National Unviersity, where Lingfei Wu, from the Web Mining Lab,City University of Hong Kong is talking on "How the Web1.0 fails: The mismatch between hyperlinks and user-flow". He argues that rather than following the hyperlinks built into web sites, people follow other paths to data. He carried out an analsysi of these bottom up "clickstreams" in the top 918 websites in the world. He found the clickstreams to be highly clustered.

In landscape architecture a well known technique for working out where paths should be is to to wait for some use and then see where the ground is worn away by foot traffic. These are known as desire paths, or more colloquially "cow paths".

However, there does not seem to me any surprise in the fact that people do not follow the hypertext links on web sites. These links are placed for the convenience of the organisation preparing the information. Just as the books in a library are arranged for the convenience of librarians, not borrowers, the pages in a web site are primarily for the convenience of the organisation providing the web site, not the users.

An issue one of the deliagtes asked was about links from Twitter and Facebook. It was not clear if the analysis software used could capture this data.
The mismatches between ‘top-down’ systems and ‘bottom-up’ patterns exist widely in human society. People bothered by the problem include Walter Burley Griffin, M. S. Gorbachev, and Tim Berners-Lee. In this presentation, I shall show the mismatch between ‘top-down’ system (hyperlink web composed of the top 1000 websites in the world) and ‘bottom-up’ patterns (user-flow on the hyperlink web) in the virtual world. Moreover, I shall discuss how the ‘survival of the fittest’ in the virtual world leads to the evolution of the WWW from web 1.0 to web 2.0.

From: How Web1.0 Fails: The Mismatch Between Hyperlinks and User-flow, ANU2010

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