The Effects of Multidimensional Navigational Aids and Individual Differences on WWW Hypertext Navigation

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Virginia Tech


The most common application of hypertext today is found on the World Wide Web, with the numbers of sites and potential users increasing continually. Hypertext systems are characterized by hyperlinks that allow users nonsequential access to the documents contained within them. Because users are not constrained to read through these documents in a linear manner, new problems may arise not found in traditional paper versions.

These problems are generally characterized by a sense of being "lost" within a hypertext system. The user may not know exactly where they are or how to get where they want to be. They have lost many of the visual cues that indicate position found in ordinary texts like books. Navigational aids or overview maps have been suggested as a means to help counteract this problem. These navigational aids can take a standard table-of-contents and extend it dynamically or provide a completely new paradigm of browsing. To that extent, many new varieties of maps (including three-dimensional ones) have been developed but not thoroughly studied. As well, it may be theorized that users of differing cognitive abilities may be helped or hindered by such devices.

An empirical study was performed to investigate the effect of multidimensional maps. Three different navigational aids were examined which varied the way pages are displayed along one, two or three dimensions. Two hypertext systems were also where one was roughly twice the size of the other. The participants were given a search task twice to examine performance on page revisits. Finally, three cognitive tests were given to view the effects of individual differences. These included a spatial ability, verbal ability and visual memory test.

The results indicated that no performance differences existed between the different navigational aids. However, a significant interaction was present between the maps and the type of Web site; smaller Web sites benefited from the 3D navigational aid. It is theorized that an observed effect for hypertext system was due to site complexity as opposed to size. The results from the cognitive ability measures were mixed. People with low verbal ability scores took longer to locate answers. People with high spatial ability scores found more answers and had scores that were less sensitive to the type of navigational aid used. No significant differences were discovered between people of high and low visual memory abilities.



Cognitive Ability, 3D, Overview Maps, World Wide Web, Disorientation