Thursday, September 23, 2004

Single-pane navigation of arbitraty depth multi-typed taxonomies

Single-pane navigation of arbitraty depth multi-typed taxonomies

Ok, so this is is a mouthful of a title. Nevertheless I have been considering this very problem for some time now. Not necessarily the "single-pane" variant of it, but the general issue of graphical representation and representation of traversal of such taxonomies.

Now really, why would anyone care -- it seems like a pretty esoteric problem. It is not. I may create a complex title (which is possibly incorrect - I am not sure multi-typed is the right formal word for what I mean), but the reality is much simpler. An example of a taxonomy could be an organizational chart, a file system, or anything really with categories and subcategories. A tree, by one other name.

When you have to build software products with a human for a final information consumer, and sometimes original information generator, taxonomies become pretty important. The two most common ways to navigate these structures via a GUI are:

These interfaces are nice, although fraught with their own issues, but certainly do not work very well on a smaller devices, like Blackberry or Palm. Is there a way to compress the display of these arbitrary number of subcategories into a screen that is effectively narrow enough for just one pane? Of course. As is common when it comes to computer-human interaction, Apple has an answer.

The iPod interface allow a scrolling traversal of the artists, genres, and albums - a taxonomy - within just one screen pane. What an obivously good solution for all sorts of handheld applications.

ps. Well, I really liked the title of the post, and was not all that exciting about writing much afterward.


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