Re: Indexing Online Books: Cost Effective?

Subject: Re: Indexing Online Books: Cost Effective?
From: Lori Lathrop <76620 -dot- 456 -at- COMPUSERVE -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 8 Nov 1993 20:29:07 EST

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)

And Helena Jerney replies:

> 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
> 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.

Thanks, Helena ... I agree with you. What often *sounds good* in theory
simply doesn't work that well in practice. Hypertext links are helpful,
but ... as William Horton points out, it's often too easy to get lost in
"hyperspace." Hypertext links are not a viable substitute for a well-
written index, just as hot water by itself isn't a viable substitute for
hot water & a little soap. (My apologies for the silly analogy ... but
that's what came to mind ....)

Lori Lathrop
Lathrop Media Services
freelance indexer and member of ASI

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