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One of the nice things about site maps is that they’ve very familiar. More than
ten years into the web business, site maps are among the documents that have
the longest history and most exposure. Because of this, they are useful tools in
various circumstances, providing a backdrop for other ideas in the design pro-
cess, or serving as a basis for comparison.
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As you read this section, think of a site map as more than just a representation
of a specific site. Think of it as a convention for representing structures of infor-
mation. In this sense, site mapping is a tool you can use in a variety of docu-
ments to draw attention to relevant structures.
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Creating a new site structure obviously depends on having an understanding
of users, but site maps can be used in user needs documents like usability test
results to provide further context. In usability test results, for example, a site
map can show users’ preferred path through a web site. Chapter 4 includes an
example of this.
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Strategy documents provide background information necessary for doing design
work. By integrating a site map into these documents, you show how the strate-
gic groundwork relates specifically to the site structure.
For example, instead of presenting a site map on its own, you can present it next
to a concept model. The concept model describes the different types of content
on the site and the site map shows how those content types work together.
A site map can be a useful tool for comparing the structures of competitive sites.
Color coding can show how the same information is positioned differently on
different sites.
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Since site maps are among the first documents created in the design process,
they can provide context for the rest of your design work. Lined up with wire-
frames or screen designs, site maps can help the project team see where a par-
ticular screen fits into the overall user experience.
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Of all the documents in this book, the site map has the least hopeful future.
Site maps are products of a time when web sites were more static, and when a
sites content was more easily quantiable. Site maps suggest a view of web sites
as simple information environments created and maintained by a centralized
authority. Most people think of moving about a web site as moving through
physical space. A site map is appealing because it corroborates this metaphor,
representing the connections between different areas on the site.
While sites like these probably wont go away any time soon, newer technolo-
gies permit a looser relationship between a site and its content. Some web sites
have little predictable structure—this it true, for example, of sites that act as
repositories for user-contributed content. Some sites, like weblogs, have pre-
dictable structures but no hierarchy of information. Site maps, therefore, have
the difficult challenge of representing more and more complex information
spaces—ones that dont resemble physical space.
Is the site map up to the challenge? It’s doubtful. Conceptual models and user
flows are better positioned to address this need. A structure of discrete and
definable pages may still have value for simple web sites that don’t push the
boundaries of technology and our interactions with it. But as more web sites
move away from strict repositories of centralized information, the site map will
be replaced with more meaningful conventions. Still, while this progression
seems inevitable, it is also difficult to imagine that—in our lifetime—well see
the complete extinction of this kind of site.
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