Re: The value of navigability (related to META...)

Bert Bos (
Mon, 6 Jun 1994 20:00:33 +0200 (METDST)

Two small footnotes to Nick Arnett's provoking essay:

| The Web's inexpensive creation and distribution of
| information calls for a focus on navigability
| (More lessons from the 15th century)


|I like to make the comparison of today's convergence of inexpensive
|computers and networks to the 15th century convergence of inexpensive
|printing and paper (see <a
|href="">Mendicant Sysops in
|CyberSpace</a> on my server for a related short essay). Illustrated
|manuscripts, prior to Gutenberg and cheap paper, were beautiful things,
|with carefully crafted letters, layout and images. They're still
|treasured. But as we know, a lot of that beauty was abandoned by early
|printing technologies. At the same time, things were added -- punctuation,
|title pages, consistent indexing, tables of contents and other navigational
|structures. The reason behind this was very much as it is today --
|publishers wanted to be able to create catalogs of books created with
|consistent structures. Navigability was more important than appearance.

The issue is more subtle than this. A colleague of mine, who is an
expert in these things, likes to start his lectures on SGML and TEI
with examples from pre-Gutenberg and early printed scholarly works, to
show the navigational aids that were lost when printing became
mechanized. Those books are pure Hypertext! On one page you could find
basically everything that was ever written on, say, Genesis 1:1,
logically mapped out, with cross references, annotations and
annotations-on-annotations, textual variants and bibliographic

|I don't mean to give short shrift to typography, layout, etc. We should
|all remember that eventually, printing technology gave us the kind of
|quality that was present in illustrated manuscripts, though it was
|centuries in coming. I understand very well the importance of appearance,
|in part to make documents readable, not just merely attractive. But today,
|as we invent this new means of communication, navigability is far, far more

There is one more argument, and here we shouldn't ignore the pressure
from publishers: (good) publishers also have a commitment to long-term
availability. You can still follow a bibliographic reference in a book
published 200 years ago, but can you trust any URL in 200 years from

PS. I like the last sentence of Nick's <a href=
""> Mendicant Sysops in
CyberSpace</a>, which reads:

"While starting a new venture in information navigation, Arnett is"



                    / _   Bert Bos <>   |
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