Communication Magazine /
Volume 1, Number 6 / October 1, 1994 / Page 13
Challenges for Web Information Providers
Continued from page 12
/ Link to article's front page
Toward Web Information Quality
Based on the above discussions of the need for information quality and
my observations from my experience, this section presents an approach
toward defining Web information quality.
Toward a Notion of Web Information Quality
Quality is a difficult term to define for a particular domain or
product. Total Quality Management, derived from W. Edwards Deming's
principles, includes ideas such as continuous improvement and
multidisciplinary responsibility for improving a product. Information
quality has much in common with product quality. Like a physical
product, information should meet user needs (satisfy the customer).
Implementing this principle in specific information development
practices and web design features, however, is not so straightforward,
as the type of needs a user has varies greatly from application to
application. However, I propose this as a preliminary statement for
web information quality:
Quality as a goal for Web information involves a continuous
process of planning, analysis, design, implementation, and
development to ensure that the information meets user needs in
terms of both content and interface.
Thus, quality is more a process of continuous improvement
rather than a set of the characteristics of a finished object (a web).
Due to the dynamic nature of Web information and the context in which
it exists, any outward sign of a web's quality can change over time
even if the web itself doesn't change. In Part V of this book,
"Weaving a Web," I describe a methodology for weaving a web using a
user-centered, continuous process emphasis, with the goal of building
up information so that it can lead to knowledge.
An overall principle such as the one I give above can guide
an information developer to view quality as something emerging
from processes. However, I can state more specific characteristics for
the quality of products resulting from these processes.
Quality Web information is:
Within its stated scope, purpose, and the context of
its presentation, Web information should give the user cues as
to its purpose, scope, and status. Developers should ensure
that the information presented in the web stays consistent with
these stated characteristics. For example, OncoLink (see
Chapter 26, "Science and Technology") is peer-reviewed, but
functions in a specific role within the medical community (not
as a substitute for professional medical care). In other words,
Web information must not only be factually correct (to
the degree its users require), but also include information presented with
cues that help the user know the web's particular definition
and scope of "correctness" as well as appropriate use.
- Accessible. While information
presented with a web, when viewed
with multimedia equipment, can present a rich experience for
the user, web developers must ensure that these "bells and
whistles" don't make important information inaccessible to some
users. Web developers should know their audience's
requirements, but need not abandon the use of
graphics or sound to conform to the least capable browser.
However, if significant segments of the target audience do not
have multimedia capabilities (or want such features), the web
should be designed so that important information is not masked
behind features the users canít or won't access.
- Usable. From the
functional perspective, the web should deliver
the information users need with a minimum amount of clutter, in
a design that captures the information taking full advantage of
hypertext. This means that text is not in one monstrous file
(as my CMC information sources file was in its state before I
"segmented" it). Rather, the pages in the web should aim to
capture a single unit of user attention--not with so little
information that the user has to "thrash" through multiple
links in the web to find meaning, but not with so much
information that the user is overwhelmed by a single page.
- Understandable. The web should contain cues and employ
composition principles that build and shape meaning. Web
developers can use techniques from writing methodologies used
in paper and other media--audience analysis, rhetorical
devices (for example, parallelism, analogies) and technical
communication techniques (for example, chunking information,
cueing the reader, ordering information). Hypertext is not
constrained to be linear--however, in local doses and at
surface particular layers, hypertext is linear prose.
accurately, hypertext can be thought of as text that is
not constrained in a single expressive object (such as a web)
or to a single perspective for meaning.
Web-based hypertext is
unbounded text that derives meaning from its links that
unendingly branch into Webspace.
Making meaning at a
local level within hypertext, however, still involves crafting
prose (or using visual or aural elements) to create meaning. To
do this, a developer needs to use effective composition
principles as opposed to forcing a user to "construct" meaning
by decoding unorganized pieces of information.
- Meaningful. Within its stated scope and context of
presentation, a quality web should somehow reach for a
significance beyond itself, a meaning that can help a user form
new relationships among information. From these new
relationships, new knowledge or insights may form. For example,
is an online
art gallery, containing online exhibits and a tour of Paris.
While the "information" presented by art is not as obviously
"useful" as scientific information in webs, it nonetheless
functions as art does in our culture--evoking a feeling of
human identification such as emotion or association.
"meaning" is not purely a transfer of information content, but
emerges as a result of encountering that information. A web
should not merely present information, but assist users in
analyzing and interpreting that information within a larger
In fact, this contextualizing aspect of meaning is one
of the strengths of the Web itself.
Continued on page 14
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