Friday, June 18, 2010

Faceted Navigation

If you are interested in designing web navigation, please read this from A List Apart. It's an excerpt from Morville and Callender's new book on search patterns and it is about Faceted Navigation, which is a powerful way to support users navigating through a large content space, such as a huge store, news archive, or library.

If you use Kayak to find plane tickets, you are familiar with faceted navigation. But this article has great advice how to do it right (not that Kayak doesn't, this is just more complete).

Avatars and assimilation

There is a great research study that just came out in the journal "Computers in Human Behavior." For the non academic readers, these are the basics:

Previous research has shown that we have simultaneous needs to conform and to be unique. So when we are deliberating in a group, we try to balance being agreeable and promoting our own opinions. Think about when you are deciding with your family or friends about where to go for dinner - part of you really wants Italian and part of you wants to get along and just accept the group decision.

This study looked at virtual deliberations when you are represented to the team as an avatar. They looked at cartoon characters where everyone either had the same avatar or different avatars and whether the avatars were human or animals. Then they gave participants dilemmas to solve - first on their own, and then to deliberate with four other people. But unbeknownst to the participants, the other four people were confederates who always took the other side as the participant. So each person found themselves one against four.

What they found is that some people had a need for group identity and were more likely to conform. Others had more need for individualism and were less likely to conform. No one was ambivalent.

But when it came to the avatars, they found some interesting results. When everyone had the same avatar, people had a very high group identity and were more likely to conform. Something about thinking of yourself as the same as everyone, even subtly like this, impacted deliberation behaviors. This was true whether the avatars were humans or animals.

But when everyone in the group had their own avatar, there was a difference. When the avatars were a group of human cartoons that all appeared about 30 years old and were one of each major ethnicity and 50/50 by gender, the group identity was the same as when they were all the same. But when they used cartoon animals (a lion, dog, bird, cat), there was a dropoff. Something about the similarity of the human avatars allowed participants to bond to the group that didn't happen with animals. We must have some kind of innate need to affiliate with humanity. Or maybe it was the age similarity (because ethnicity and gender were different).