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RE: crumb trails


From: Terence de Giere
Date: Aug 12, 2005 5:43PM

Martin Burrow wrote:
Say a user is on a page deep in a website, e.g.
Home > page 1 > next_level_page > parent_page > actual_page
Is an acceptable crumbtrail &
Home > parent_page > actual_page

I am not sure about this because it doesn't represent the navigational
To clarify, there are 'home' links elsewhere on each page.
Home > ....> parent_page > actual_page
.....> parent_page > actual_page
be better?


Lida, Hull and Pilcher in 2002, reported that less than half of users
take advantage of breadcrumbs (even when most report having noticed
them). Under click-stream analysis, breadcrumbs are not more efficient
than other approaches to navigation.

Breadcrumbs allow the user to get a quick overview of the site structure
immediately above the current page, but usually not the site as a whole.

I don't know of any testing done on abbreviated breadcrumbs, which seems
to be one of the points here, making the breadcrumb shorter so it
doesn't look too ungainly and long on the page. But then, a truncated
breadcrumb really doesn't represent the site structure any more, so it
could cause some confusion. I don't know whether it would work in
practice, because it would be acting like a virtual site structure, but
it might work. That is often the case with conventional navigation menus
as well if a site is huge.

For example, on CNN.com if one selects 'Weather' from the main left hand
menu, one ends up on a page titled 'Weather' with the URL
http://www.cnn.com/WEATHER/ At the time I did this the page had a
headline about a hurricane called Irene. Following the link 'FULL STORY'
for this headline led me to a page
http://www.cnn.com/2005/WEATHER/08/12/weather.irene.ap/ which if put as
a breadcrumb would be rather long. And this page's location is not
really reflected in the main navigation structure, and backing up in the
directory structure using the address bar yielded a series of 'Page not
found' messages. On this site breadcrumbs with the site structure would
not work.

The navigation system of a site really has to represent the information
in the site organized in a way that is easy to understand by the user.
With a large deep site, it may be better to have a virtual rather than
an actual representation of the site content. On this CNN example, once
this news is past, the page will still be there, but one probably could
not find it again except by doing a search, because it is not
represented by any part of the menu system.

A complete menu system and full breadcrumbs on CNN would be extremely
bulky, and likely impractical to implement, and probably also difficult
to use by the average visitor because the site is so deep. Most of the
content of this site is not current but past news, but the menu system
is designed to reveal only the most current information, and search is
provided to find older things which are less relevant to a news site.
Breadcrumbs are more appropriate if all the pages on the site are likely
to have current useful information that is frequently accessed.

The usability specialist Jakob Nielsen uses breadcrumbs as the main
navigation for his spartan useit.com site (http://www.useit.com/), with
a main portal page with lists of links for the top level page. This
works quite well, but this site is also deliberately kept with a simple,
graphically primitive, and easy to update structure, and most of the
content has present day relevance even though some is as much as 10
years old.

For more complicated sites a more comprehensive navigation menu would be
needed for a user to keep their bearings on where they are. Then
breadcrumbs can provide that supplementary quick reference where one is,
but not necessarily where one might want to go next. The question is, if
we abbreviate the breadcrumb, revealing only approximately rather than
exactly where one is on the site, is this still useful or confusing?,
and I don't have the answer for this. This would be a project for
usability testing, and the answer may be very site dependent. The main
goal is to allow the user to find what they need, so a virtual
representation in not out of the question. One question to answer is, do
users of your site expect a breadcrumb representation of the location of
a page to represent the real layout of the site?. Another is, if you use
breadcrumbs, will they be used? If not, why put them in? Ask them.

I don't see much use in visibly implementing the page history functions
of a browser as a breadcrumb 'trail', because the page history can be
accessed by the user separately, although few users ever use this
history list. Most users just use the back button or command, which is
simpler, and works as long as a site doesn't open new windows.

Terence de Giere