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RE: "Greater Than" symbols used for other things


From: Lisa Halabi
Date: Sep 30, 2002 1:56PM

Hi there,

Just a general observation regarding the use of breadcrumbs. I've run
several usability tests in the UK with a range of users, although many were
relatively inexperienced. I was quite surprised to find that although some
did notice breadcrumbs, hardly anyone actually used them for navigation. I
therefore came to the conclusion that they were not as beneficial as I
originally thought they would be. However I do believe they will steadily
become more useful as people discover/learn their purpose and general
overall web experience increases. They are especially useful for
hierarchical structured sites with divisions and subdivisions, such as
online retailing.


Lisa Halabi
Senior Usability & Accessibility Consultant
Events Coordinator - UK Usability Professionals Assoc.
Tel: +44 (0)7956 280 447

"If technology doesn't work for people, it doesn't work."
OR "if technology worked then I wouldn't..."

-----Original Message-----
From: Paul Bohman [mailto: <EMAIL REMOVED> ]
Sent: 27 September 2002 22:08
Subject: RE: "Greater Than" symbols used for other things

The issue of breadcrumbs is an interesting one. Two main questions have
arisen in this thread:

1. The most fundamental question: Are breadcrumbs good?
2. If you use breadcrumbs, how can you make them accessible to those
using screen readers (e.g., do you use the 'greater than' character [>]?

The first question, of whether breadcrumbs are good or not, deserves
some discussion. The purpose of breadcrumbs is to tell users where they
are within a web site. The example of "Home > How-To > Captions" tells
users that they are on the "Captions" document within the "How-To"
section of the site, which is one level below the "Home" page. Although
this is not always important information to know, it can be very useful
to those who enter the site via search engines, or to make sure that you
are in the right location within the site. For example, If you are
looking for information about mouse devices for a Mac computer, you
could refer to the breadcrumbs to make sure you were in the right
section of the site. If the breadcrumbs say "Home > Computer hardware >
Mouse devices > Mac" you would know that you're in the right location.
If the breadcrumbs say "Home > Internet Browsers > Mac" you would know
that you are in the wrong location. They help give you a context.

If the breadcrumbs are links, then they serve not only as a guide to the
site hierarchy, but as a way to navigate through that hierarchy. This
can be great for site navigation.

There are many advocates of using breadcrumbs, and there are many sites
which currently use them. The prevelance of breadcrumbs actually has the
potential of increasing their usability because people are more familiar
with them.

Several usability studies have shown that breadcrumbs increase the
usability of sites for most users. Here is a quote from one study:

"All participants noticed the "breadcrumb" navigation links on the lower
level pages, and most clicked the links. In addition, most participants
understood (or partially understood) the underlying concept and function
of these links."

Here is a quote from another study:

"The impact is clear-navigation bars are good, but more so for advanced
users than novice ones. For large websites, they are invaluable. The
amount of screen space lost is minimal and they show users where they
are in the architecture. Web directories can help save people valuable
minutes and hundreds of mouse clicks by implementing them properly.
Since people are occasionally lost and confused without them, companies
can relieve disorder and keep people on their websites for longer. In
the world of e-commerce, that could mean millions of dollars lost or
saved based on a simple navigation aid."

As you might guess, not all users are able to understand or make use of
breadcrumbs, but nearly all of the literature out there says that
breadcrumbs are beneficial to at least a majority of the users.

*HOWEVER*, I personally haven't seen any studies that evaluate the
effectiveness of breadcrumbs to screen reader users. Now we get to the
second question of how to make breadcrumbs accessible to users of screen

To be honest, I have struggled with this question, and I don't have a
definitive answer, but here's my thinking:

Using the "greater than" symbol is not ideal, but it does have some
logic behind it. In the example of "Home > How-To > Captions", we can
infer that a hierarchy exists in which the Home page is "greater than"
or "higher up in the hierarchy" than "How-To", and that "How-To" is
above "Captions" in the same way. The hierarchy remains intact. Other
sites use a forward slash [/] to differentiate the breadcrumb elements,
like this: Home/How-To/Captions. Forward slashes are commonly used in
operating systems such as Windows and Unix to denote hierarchy. As we
move deeper into the age of graphical user interfaces, though, most
people are not quite as familiar with the meaning of forward slashes.
The "folder" metaphor is better understood by most. I would not
recommend using the folder metaphor, though. It doesn't seem quite right
on the Web in most circumstances. I have also seen a colon used [:]. I'm
not a big fan of this one, but I suppose it works too. If I had to
choose between using a greater than symbol, a forward slash, and a
colon, I would choose the greater than symbol. That's just my

Of course, Jukka is correct in saying that when you *listen* to the
breadcrumb structure with a screen reader, you may not be able to tell
what you're listening to. Hearing the words "greater than" or "slash" or
"colon" can be confusing. On the other hand, the WebAIM site is not the
only site that uses breadcrumbs. People who use screen readers have
probably encountered them before. Perhaps this makes it easier to
understand, or perhaps this just means that they're confused every time
that they come across breadcrumbs. I admit that I don't know. I would be
interested to hear about the experiences of others on this list who are
regular users of screen readers. Let us know!


So, my CONCLUSION is that I don't yet have a better solution than the
one that I'm currently using on the site, but I realize that it's not
perfect. I'll keep thinking about it, and I'll take Jukka's suggestions
into account, but I honestly don't think I have a "best" answer at this

Paul Bohman
Technology Coordinator
WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind)
Center for Persons with Disabilities
Utah State University

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