Wayfinding and navigability

I mentioned in the previous post that there is a new book out called Ambient Findability. It looks at ways we can find our way through the information overload of today's society.

One of the key points it makes is that wayfinding and navigability through the real physical environment are strong metaphors for finding our way through the noosphere, to use the old phrase of Teilhard de Chardin (maybe we'd call it the blogosphere today).

For what it's worth I did a Masters Thesis on this in the 1980s. I studied both expert and novice wayfinders as they performed a wayfinding task (deciding on a route through an environment as they studied a map). Here's what I found:

1. Experts do wayfinding differently than novices.
Where novices follow a string of beads or trail of breadcrumbs from one known point to another. experts navigate "regionally," paradoxically not by knowing exactly where they are, but with a wider sense of where they are generally.

2. Experts and novices focus on different parts of the task
If you're a novice wayfinder you're much more likely to think in terms of the destination. Experts focus on the route itself.

3. Experts are "enablers," novices are "disablers."
Experts look for aspects of the route that will help them, novices look for aspects that will hinder them.

4. Experts have a richer, more interconnected thought process.
I also looked at how expert and novice problem-solving was structured. I found that experts had a far richer and integrated problem solving thought process than novices, who thought in isolated, disjoint patterns.

5. Experts built in error checking protocols.
Finally, I also discovered that experts often employed error-checking protocols which let them know for instance when they had overshot their destination ("oh, I've reached the stream behind the destination, I'd better go back").

Now this was only a Masters Thesis with limited numbers of subjects, but I've often wondered if these findings would extrapolate to the information sphere.

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