Towards navigation for information retrieval

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Information Transfer


Michael Nilan



Subject Categories

Interpersonal and Small Group Communication


This work proposes navigation as a fundamental concept for information retrieval. A conceptual framework for navigation is developed, after Mead's (1960) notions of the importance of modelling the other for effective communication. Navigation is defined as that behavior in which humans engage to make sense of an information space. Information space is defined as the set of concepts and relations among them stored by an information system. Unlike cognitive spaces, which humans possess, currently available information spaces are not generally subject to change in response to ongoing communication.

During human communication, people send and receive messages, which have the effect of changing their cognitive spaces. For effective communication, each participant uses a model of the other to properly gauge the effects of her or his messages. For interaction with information systems, the necessity for a model is the same, but it is typically incumbent on the human user to conform to the generalized model which the system has of its users. Navigation is not a metaphor, it is human behavior which occurs when humans interact with information space. This work treats navigation through physical domains in the same way as navigation through information space, in that each requires the creation and maintenance of a cognitive model of what is navigated.

Brookes' (1975) "exosomatic memory" is presented as a long-term goal of information systems. Providing more navigable systems is one step towards that goal, by facilitating human model building and moving towards human-computer interaction which is more similar to human-human interaction.

An empirical investigation of navigation for information retrieval is completed. An information space is created which incorporates concept relations, intended as a step towards information spaces which match the cognitive spaces of users. A prototype information retrieval system is designed to navigate the information space, employing a visual interface and optional gesture-oriented input device. A user-based evaluation of the prototype environment is made. The outcome indicates that navigation, as conceptualized for this work, is a useful and fruitful outlook on information seeking behavior involving human-computer interaction.


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