Reaping Information: Dynamic Navigation Helps Users Separate the Digital Wheat From the Chaff

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Remember Pong, the black-and-white video game where players attempted to score points by hitting a pixel ball with a vertical straight line? The game caused quite a sensation when a home video version was released in the U.S. in the early ’70s. But gaming technology rapidly evolved, and the quirky game soon was relegated to bargain bins and basements as gamers demanded more sophisticated forms of entertainment.

A similar transformation has taken place in the search technology market. Remember AltaVista? It transformed search by letting people use "natural language" to find information, as well as by providing a full-text database of a large part of the web (as opposed to directory-only search tools). While search engines were rudimentary, there also wasn’t much information being compiled. So, though searches may not have turned up exactly what you needed, you also weren’t overwhelmed with too many (or too many inappropriate) results.

Fast-forward just a few years and the sheer size of the internet has grown to somewhere between 15 billion and 30 billion pages, depending on who’s doing the counting. The meteoric rise of Google has made internet searching faster than ever, but the quality of the retrieved information often is suspect, especially when you employ general search parameters.

Type "apple" into Google, and you’ll be inundated by news and notes concerning the computer, iPod, and iPhone maker. Look down many links, and you’ll see a story about Apple Records and the Beatles, the company’s most famous act. However, if you’re actually looking for someplace to buy Gala apples or that perfect pie-making variety whose name you just can’t remember, you’ll have to keep scrolling and clicking.

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