Site maps

Revisiting the Visual Vocabulary

The Visual Vocabulary Three Years Later: An Interview with Jesse James Garrett - In October 2000, Jesse James Garrett introduced a site architecture documentation standard called the Visual Vocabulary. Since then, it has become widely adopted among information architects and user experience professionals. B&A chats with Jesse about the vocabulary and thoughts on IA standards and tools. [Boxes and Arrows]

GraphViz Site Map script now offered under GPL

Sorry to keep posting announcements about the GraphViz script here. A few people have been asking for the PHP script that runs the GraphViz Site Map Generator so with some reluctance I am now offering the script for free use under GPL. I'm mainly reluctant to share it so openly because it shows my limited understanding of PHP :(. But if you want to hack away at it to make it better, please send me back the improvements you've made. You can grab the script (it's one file), but I'm not going to be offering any major support. Let me know if you use it successfully somewhere.

GraphViz Site Map Generator with SVG output

I updated the Site Map Generator, a proof of concept application (or toy) that shows GraphViz's functionality as an IA tool. This set of updates produces more readable SVGs. View the hierarchical map and radial map demos to see the results (SVG viewer required). Note that due to memory constraints, this only works with files up to about 438 lines, so uploading your huge content inventory might not work.

SVG is pretty cool. Ever since Auke turned me onto it by pointing me to this map showing social patterns and structures in Vienna I've been floored by this technology and vowed to learn more about it. Haven't gotten there yet, but once SVG viewers get better browser penetration, there will be a lot more we can do to help users visualize information by just serving an SVG XML file.

A web-based application to semi-automate site map creation

I started working with GraphViz this month and have created a web-based application that converts tab delimitted text files into diagrams. The sole purpose for the application at this point is to turn site inventories or IA hierarchies into clickable site maps like this.

Before you ask why I bothered to do this, I'll give a little history. Immediately after writing the article Automating Diagrams with Visio for Boxes and Arrows I began to see that I didn't want to draw circles, boxes, lines, etc. anymore. That hacky process I used served its purpose. But over the past year I have learned to let databases and scripting languages to the heavy work we normally do in applications like Excel, e.g. content inventories, site architecture (capturing page/node data and parent child relationships). But I still have the need to work with Excel or plain text files for some of the smaller sites I work on outside of my day job. So I still do the site architecture in Excel and now I can do the diagramming in GraphViz.

So try out the app and let me know if you are doing anything similar or see other uses for this thing.

UPDATE: Added a few options including hierachical or radial layout, box or circle shapes, fill or no fill, and shape and font coloring options so you can now create diagrams like this.

Visualizing your traffic flow

My sysadmin and I have been playing with graphviz today. I was playing with it on Mac OS X and he used Randal Schwartz's perl script in Web Techniques Column 58 (Feb 2001). He was able to quickly produce a diagram that shows user flow based on Apache referrer logs. The script feeds your log files to graphiviz's dot program and outputs a gif file.

We were both surprised that we didn't find more people writing about using graphviz to analyze of patterns of information-use. Graphviz seems so easy. I know James has been doing a lot of work on generating diagrams from referrer logs using OmniGraffle and Applescript.

Diagramming software

I've been reminded of AT&T Labs' GraphViz again, most recently by a Drupal developer who's writing code to draw diagrams from Drupal's database. Lately, my organization has been pushing to get reports of user data. The reports we get generated from our sysadmin are mostly raw dumps of data that have some columnar formatting. What we're looking at right now is using log files to auto-generate diagrams that show usage data. Should be fun. If you've done this sort of thing with GraphViz before I'd love to hear about your experience. I've downloaded the Mac OS X package and am learning the languages now.

Other semi-automated diagramming packages (gleaned from the Tulip site).

Studying information seeking and use

I have been dealing lately with user research based on interviews and product usage data. Some needs related to this work have been bouncing around in my head. What's fascinating to me is that related new literature has recently come across my desk and I've also participated in some conversations recently that have definitely informed how I am considering fulfilling these needs. That any of these seemingly separate things (literature, discourse, my work) should be related is amazing to me.

Here are four related recent articles and discourses that seem to me to have the theme of comparing pre-determined information structure with information usage-based mapping/cognition.

Cognitive Models for Web Design

Tanya Rabourn discusses information foraging, a theory that attempts to explain human information seeking behavior based on the food foraging theory from biology and anthropology. According to Pirolli and Card, "Information foraging theory analyzes trade-offs in the value of information gained against the costs of performing activity in human-computer interaction tasks." The advantage in using this theory as the basis for modeling information seeking behavior comes in the form of understanding users' cognitive mapping of knowledge and knowledge relationships and understanding attributes of information navigation such as scent. Tanya discusses 3 new tools which would benefit this area of study: 1) ACT-R, which uses network modeling of knowledge to model interaction, 2) analyzing user paths from web server log data and creating user profiles from that analysis, and 3) collaborative filtering or foraging for information groups.

Tanya's essay gives a concise summary of the literature and discusses some new methods for applying the theory. My eureka moment came last night when I saw James demonstrate his latest OmniGraffle experiments, which use web server logs to to create what he calls self-organizing site maps -- diagrams that show paths traveled between nodes/pages on a site to reveal real users' information seeking behavior. In a sense the relationships that emerge reveal the collective user base's cognitive map. It can be used to show where information scent was weak or strong and where content structure doesn't map to user peceptions.

I've been wanting a better way to test the information architecture of sites based on actual information use, and it's not until I read Tanya's essay and saw the visualization that James came up with that my brain was able to churn on this concept. It's nice to know smart and creative people.

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