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Hal Shubin <[log in to unmask]>
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Hal Shubin <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 29 Jun 2006 20:40:50 -0400
text/plain (334 lines)
I asked about the two kinds of bread crumbs. I got lots of info. Thanks to all.

The first thing I learned is that there are three 
kinds. Using the definitions from Instone's 
presentation (he *said* to go home and start 
using these terms, so I've switched to his terms):
   1. Path: Shows the pages you clicked on.
   2. Location: The place in the information 
hierarchy where the current page fits or is stored.
   3. Attribute: A set of meta-information describing the page.

As one goes from #1 to #3, they become less like 
the bread crumbs Hansel & Gretel used in the 
forest (which is the origin of the term -- "Get 
me out of here!"). We need a better term, 
especially if Path trails are not the prevalent 
type, which seems to be the case. Location & 
Attribute trails are not paths to lead you back 
where you came from, so calling them "bread crumbs" is misleading (a bad UI).

I got a number of replies with things to read, 
and they were useful; see below. But first, a 
long summary of what I learned today and 
yesterday in my readings. Keith Instone has more 
detail on a lot of this 


= People don't know bread crumbs are there (or 
not as much as we'd like them to, or assume they do).

= If they do know about them and use them, people 
can be more efficient in their browsing (see 
"Usability News article by Hull: "[W]e did find 
that minimal training did affect participants' 
usage of the breadcrumb trails and resulted in 
quicker completion times, visited fewer pages and 
minimal use of the Back button.")

= Or *not* any more efficient. (see "Usability 
News" article by Lida, et al.: "Breadcrumb users 
were not found to be more efficient than users 
who did not use the breadcrumb[s].")

= Training seems to be good. Can we do something 
simple (like just including "Path: " at the 
beginning [Peter, is that what your question 
meant?]), or do we need the more detailed training used in the studies I read?

= If they're more efficient in their browsing, 
they'll leave the site sooner, having satisfied 
their goals (see the Human Factors Int'l essay 
mentioned below). But is that good? If you're the 
user, yes. If you're the owner of an e-commerce 
site, maybe that's *not* good because you want 
people to hang around longer, look at more stuff 
and buy more. Unless they're frustrated and just leave.

= I'm not as against them as I was before because 
some of what I read showed some benefits. For 
example, if you do a Web search and jump into the 
middle of a site that uses Location bread crumbs, 
the trail shows you how the current page fits 
into the site structure. For example, if you're 
looking at 5.8 GHz two-line telephones, you can 
click on "Telephones" in the path so you can 
switch to digital PBX systems. B*U* T, maybe a 
good left-hand navigation system would work just 
as well. I don't think I saw a study that addressed that issue.

= Some good points in the Syntagm article, 
including this: "Site navigation is often 
difficult to follow backwards  a little like 
trying to follow trail signs in the wrong 
direction. This is especially true when the 
location of each page being viewed is not 
reflected in the navigation itself (with a 
highlight or other marker of some type)."

= And maybe they're also useful when you have 
done long navigation because they can probably 
show you more useful information for going back 
(and then sideways) than the nav bar can. For 
example, working through the directory structure at Yahoo.

= The Path bread crumb trail is like the Back 
button menu, but it can be smarter. Instead of 
showing every page you've been to from the Home 
page to the current page, it could just show the 
sub-home pages for the categories you've looked 
at (assuming the trail can be condensed). That 
would make it a better way to go backwards. B*U*T 
some of the studies reported that people know 
what to expect from the Back button, but aren't 
sure what to expect from links like a bread crumb 
trail. And many people go right to the Back 
button if they're not satisfied quickly enough, so maybe we don't need both.

= The Location bread crumb trail seems to be 
fatally flawed to me, based on my observations 
and discussion with two clients who are currently 
interested in it. Reasons: (a) A given page in a 
large system is likely to be found in more than 
one path through the system (eg, a given article 
about nutrition may be available when navigating 
information about infants and about toddlers). 
The bread crumb trail is typically fixed (that 
is, independent of the actual click trail), so 
it's going to be wrong for a significant 
percentage of the users. That's not helpful. (b) 
While this method seems great for classification 
mavens, is it useful for just-plain-folks? Does 
it make the user form a mental model of the site 
or does it help her learn it? Most people don't 
care about the site structure, so hopefully there's no negative effect.

= The HFI Newsletter article says that people 
assume Path when they see bread crumbs; if it's 
really a Location trail, how confused will they be?

= Peter Boersma said, "That strikes me as odd 
(unless this was an unexperienced surfer): 
[Location breadcrumbs are] the most used option, 
probably because it is the solution that is most 
easy to implement in current CMSs." My first 
reaction was that it should be most prevalent 
because it's *better*, but Peter probably agrees with that.

So, as Keith Instone mentioned, we have lots more 
to look at. I'm hoping to structure some research 
with a current client in such a way as to get some more answers.

And now, comments I got from other readers of CHI 
Web. Thanks to everyone for more reading material 
than I expected and more questions than answers. 
(No, seriously. Thanks. Nice to have to have an 
answer, but nice to have something to think about. Let's do some studies.)

From: "Peter Boersma" <[log in to unmask]>

Hal Shubin said [about bread crumbs]:
 > There seem to be two basic ways to implement this:
 > 1. Bread crumbs show the user's path to the current page.
 > 2. Bread crumbs show the location of the 
current page in the hierarchy of information.

It seems Keith Instone wrote the best stuff on this topic:

 > This site uses #2, which confused this particular user.

That strikes me as odd (unless this was an 
unexperienced surfer): #2 is the most used 
option, probably because it is the solution that 
is most easy to implement in current CMSs.

 > The page could appear in a number of different 
paths through the site and the way it was marked 
had some terms that were actually opposite what shewas thinking about.

Care to share the indicators you think confused 
the user? Did the breadcrumb start with "path" or "start"?

 > Any thoughts or (even better) data about this?

I have worked on the detailed design of a 
#1-based solution but it's not yet in production, 
so I can't show it live or tell you how it's been 
received :-( Concept testing indicated we'd need 
a lot of explanation around the design, exactly 
because it is different from the "standard".


From: Marti Hearst <[log in to unmask]>

Hal, see my discussion of the issue in our chi course lecture notes
and in a soon-to-be-published paper:

The main idea is that the breadcrumbs should reflect both the path the
user has traversed and a meaningful information structure.  Too often
the two are conflated, or worse yet, the path that the user follows is
converted into the one that the information architecture preferred
they would have taken.

For faceted search interfaces the breadcrumb should be broken up into
difference components, one for each facet, with hierarchy shown within
each component.  This reflects the path taken in the order taken to a
certain degree, but not so literally as to end up with a nonsensical

Marti Hearst


From: "Steve Psomas" <[log in to unmask]>


You might try this story. It has some good 
references at the bottom. 

Hope that helps.

-Steve Psomas


From: "Huifang Wang" <[log in to unmask]>


I am affraid that I don't have a clean cut answer 
to your questions, just some thoughts.

If this is a web page that we are talking about, 
then it is typically shown in IE or other 
browsers.  The web browsers use the 'Back' button 
to show the user's navigation path which is 
essentially the history of how the user got to 
the current page.  As such, using method 1 for 
breadcrumb does not provide unique values.  If 
however, this is a web based application, and the 
browser's back button does not behave correctly, 
then I would suggest that you implement your own 
web app's back button rather then use the breadcrumb.

I've seen breadcrumbs typically being implemented 
to show where the current page is in the 
information hierarchy, as your method 2 
indicates.  However, whether to show this or not 
depends on whether the hierarchy is something 
that the users can relate to.  Is there value in 
showing the information hierarchy?  Would it make 
sense for users to navigate through the 
information hierarchy?  Are the terms used in the 
information hierarchy easy enough for users to relate to?



From: "Glantz, Nolan" <[log in to unmask]>

I always think of bread crumbs as telling the
user where they are in the site, not necessarily how they got there.  I
think of this as more useful, since you can (almost) always use the Back
button (and its drop down list) to see where you came from.  But especially
if you got here in a round about way, bread crumb links may be the easiest
(or even the only) way to easily get up one level to the "container" of the
section you're currently in.

It might help to look at other factors beside the breadcrumb that can cause
the confusion.  Although in a very dynamic site, where content is pulled
together through a fancy CMS, there may not be a notion of "location" in the
site's hierarchy, most of the time there is a hierarchy and it "usually"
helps users to understand at any moment where they are in the "world".
Perhaps the other factors are playing a part.  For example, does the global
navigation indicate current location at all?  Did the link used to get here
look and feel to the user like she was "drilling down" for detail within a
particular section or was the link presented more as a short cut jumping
across the to another part of the site?

It is also possible, though a bit harder to manage and maintain, to have a
given page seem to "live" in more than one place on the site.  In other
words, if there are 2 perfectly reasonably ways to get to it, and in both
cases it feels like you're drilling down, then maybe the breadcrumb should
make it appear as if you are still in the respective section in both cases.
For example, if you are looking at yellow Corvettes, you can imagine a site
structure that was Cars > Corvettes > Yellow (within the set of all
Corvettes, these are the Yellow ones), and one that was Cars > Yellow >
Corvettes (within the set of all Yellow cars, these are the Corvettes).  In
this type of hierarchy/category drill down browsing, it would be best to
make the breadcrumb, and the apparent location within the site, dynamic
depending on navigation path.  Browse through Circuit City's categories for
a good example of this style.

Good luck with it.

Take care,
Nolan Glantz


From: "Scott Berkun" <[log in to unmask]>

First thought was you never get everyone (which 
I'm sure you realize) - you mentioned one person 
struggled with design #2, but that's one of how 
many? Not that you shouldn't care of course, but 
trying to make the design work for her, as an 
outlier, may very well make it confusing for 
someone else if her expectations are so different.

Without seeing the exact design you're using it's 
hard to give much commentary - but I do have a 
small stack of data/refs on this.

With some kind of data: (w/refs)

Summaries, examples or opinions:
(Google has plenty more like these)



No one sent this, but I found it at the ACM 
Digital Library, and then at this site:  

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