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Re: Which should come first - navigation OR content?


From: Paul R. Bohman
Date: Apr 26, 2006 9:50AM

The question of which should come first *ought to be* a non-issue. There
a few approaches to making the order not matter so much:

1. The content author provides workarounds: e.g. Create links like "skip
to main content", "skip navigation", or "skip to navigation".

2. The browser provides multiple page navigation mechanisms: e.g. such
as Opera's ability to jump from heading to heading (S key to go forward,
W key to go backward) or from element to element (D to go forward, E to
go backward). In addition to these keyboard shortcuts, most browsers
allow users to jump from link to link (usually using tab to go forward
and shift+tab to go backward), and allow users to jump to the top of the
page (Page up) or bottom (Page down) or to scroll (up arrow and down
arrow), allowing users to search for words on the page (I especially
like the "find by typing" option in Firefox), etc.

3. An add-on or assistive technology can add additional navigation
functionality: e.g. most screen readers provide multiple methods of
navigating through the page, including headings, lists of links, element
to element, one line at a time, one word at a time, one letter at a
time, and other methods relevant to people who can't see the page.

4. The specifications for HTML can provide semantic hooks in the
language itself: e.g. navigation menus can be designated as such, to
differentiate them from non-navigation content. XHTML 2.0 takes steps in
this direction.

5. Intelligent software (approaching artificial intelligence) can parse
the content, extract its semantic meaning, and present it to users using
either standards-based or convention-based structure and formatting.
This would be a high-tech way of making meaning out of ill-defined
domains (and when we're talking about human writing or conversation--no
matter the topic--the intended meaning is almost always an ill-defined

With all of these potential approaches, content developers can create
the content in pretty much any order they want. Users will still be able
to get around within the content.

Of course, the big problem is that these methods are largely dependent
on the code being developed logically in the first place, and the
skilled use of semantic elements (headings, etc.) definitely helps.

About conventions: In some ways it helps to follow conventions, no
matter how ill-conceived they are. In other ways it would make sense to
invent new and better conventions, but it's always an uphill climb.
Here's an example: there are several keyboard layouts that have been
scientifically "proven" to be more efficient than our standard QWERTY
keyboard. If we all used them, we'd be more productive. I don't doubt
that at all. The trouble is that nobody wants to change. Should we
change keyboards? I think the logical answer is yes. Will we? I doubt
it. If there was a big push to change keyboards, I would probably
support it. And it would probably fizzle out. That's just the way things go.

So I think most people will continue putting the navigation on the top,
and most people will continue to prefer it that way, for better or for

But to return to my original message: it shouldn't matter. I think we'll
be better off focusing on methods to make the placement irrelevant.


Paul R. Bohman
Technology Coordinator
Kellar Institute for Human disAbilities (www.kihd.gmu.edu)
George Mason University (www.gmu.edu)