Navigation in Hypertext

Hypertext Navigation Problem

According to the American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, 2000, navigation is:

1. The theory and practice of navigating, especially the charting of a course for a ship or aircraft.

2. Travel or traffic by vessels, especially commercial shipping.

There are many studies on navigation in many aspects of life, such as: navigation on land, in space, and city planning. . . The idea of navigation in hypertext was pioneered by Vannevar Bush in As We May Think, in which he proposed a Memex machine for browsing and taking notes. The characteristics of this machine were quite similar to the characteristics of today's hypertext. The concept of trail used in Memex is the first navigation aid that supported the need for information retrieval of users. (For more information about Memex, readers can visit:

In some fields of navigation, the term way finding is usually used synonymously with the term navigation. Besides, it is also common to used browsing and exploring to refer to navigation.

Getting lost in hypertext is quite similar to getting lost when you visit a new city. You don't know where you are and how to reach your destination. Moreover, you don't know how to return to your old place. But the problem in hypertext is much more complicated. You need not just only remember the two-dimension structure of the city's map but you have to remember lots of links and the way they connected. Obtaining the structure of hypertext is much more difficult because there are many links coming to one node and many links going out from one node. Therefore, there have been many efforts to help hypertext users overcome this problem. But before looking at them, we must realize their ultimate purposes by looking at three questions in [Landow]

  1. What much one do to orient readers and help them read efficiently and with pleasure?

    This concerns orientation information, necessary for finding one's place within a body of interlinked text.

  2. How can one help readers retrace the steps in their reading path?

    This concerns navigation information, necessary for making one's way through the materials.

  3. How can one inform those reading a document where the links in that document lead?

    This concerns exit or departure information.

  4. How can one assist readers who have just entered a new document to feel at home there?

    This concerns arrival or entrance information.

In Hypertext 2.0, three points that need to be noticed were pointed out:

  1. The concept of disorientation relates closely to the tendency to use spatial, geographical, and travel metaphors to describe the way users experience hypertext.
  2. The problem of disorientation obviously concerns the design of the information technology.
  3. The problem of hypertext may results from little attention of authors to the problem and the little experience of users.

Certainly, the aim of all these efforts is satisfying the readers' need. Many hypertext systems offer users navigation aided tools to help them navigate, such as maps to get the system's structure, bookmarks and history lists to go to a visited node. In addition, the hypertext authors themselves need to give help to the readers to prevent them from disorientation.

Navigation in Hypertext

Last modified: 6 Nov 2002 by Kathy Nguyen Dang