Re: Indexing Online Books: Cost Effective?

Subject: Re: Indexing Online Books: Cost Effective?
From: Helena Jerney <Helena_Jerney -at- NOVELL -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 8 Nov 1993 15:42:21 PST

In discussing the issue of indexing online information Mark Hage writes:

> While I agree that indexes are valuable in written texts, they are
> valuable because they offer an alternative method of reading the text (as
> opposed to the good old cover-to-cover approach).

> In hypertext (assuming the hypertext is well designed) this alternative
> reading approach is available through the links. Relations between topics
> are "links" in hypertext. An index becomes redundant and, I would argue
> unnecessary. (Though a user must be presented with choices allowing
> himself or herself an access point to the information sought)

I have to completely disagree with this statement. While hypertext links
provide useful paths *through* online information, the can never replace
the point-of-entry links that an extensive index and other content lists
allow. Points of entry to specific topics are *never* redundant in an
online hypertext system, it makes the system easier to navigate, easier
to comprehend as an information delivery medium, it gives the reader an idea
of the topics covered and how extensive the system is, and it makes it
more usable. In short, it provides users with cues that they do not get
otherwise with online systems. With printed documentation there are a number
of ways to find out this type of information visually (how thick the book
is, the type of cover, the layout of the page, the TOC and Index,
leafing through, headers and footers, etc etc etc).

Although in theory a hypertext system may take the user through the information
they need, in practice users need control of where they want to go and
an understanding of how to get there and of where they are. An online
documentation set simply cannot survive without multiple point of entry
tools as well as strong navigation tools. Full test search helps, but
never replaces the user being able to make a choice from a list that gives
them some idea about the content and from lists that reflect the structure
of the document.

Helena Jerney

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