The “How To” of Mental Representations

Isaac Bashevis Singer “Who knows?”

Whether it is walking across the street or browsing Web sites on the Internet, we need to know “how” to do something to be able to successfully navigate and perform tasks. Of course, we can and do learn how to perform many novel tasks from scratch, but much of what we do are familiar tasks carried out with few if any changes to our normal way of doing it.

We rely on a certain kind of mental representation of that task domain – one that is procedural and can guide us step by step through it. This type of mental representation is the goal of training and is refined through practice.

But what happens when you are confronted with an entirely new task domain, but you don’t know that and instead assume it is a familiar one? That is where our mental representations can cause confusion or even danger in certain circumstances.

As designers of software, Web sites, or any other type of environment where users interact in a procedural manner to accomplish tasks, we need to understand the nature of this type of mental representation and make sure we support its development to meet the needs of each user in such a manner (e.g., user-centered design) that they can transfer and translate their understanding across similar task domains, such as designing an operating system or word processing interface in a way that promotes bridging of prior knowledge and experience.

To have some fun with this important concept and try to identify it in the context of customer experience, let’s consider the case of a person who can’t make sense of a restaurant setting and winds up not being served.

There is a story about Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Nobel Prize-winning Polish-born author, who upon emigrating to New York City in the mid-20th century came upon a restaurant and sat down waiting for his first meal in the US.

He waited quite a while, all along noticing that many waiters and waitresses were busily walking by his table with trays of food destined for other tables, but no one stopped to take his order.

Out of desperation, he grabbed the arm of one of these people and demanded that his order was taken.

It was only then that Isaac learned that his type of mental representation was inappropriate for explaining how things worked in this restaurant.

Now given that this story takes place in New York City quite some time ago, you may not be able to fully describe what specific type of restaurant Isaac chose, but a more general type that is still popular today would suffice (besides, I will tell you the name of that restaurant in my reply to this post).

Q: What type of restaurant did Isaac choose?

Q: What is the name for this type of mental representation?

When you think you have the answers (or even if you don’t, but are curious), read the comment in reply that I have posted to see the answers to these questions.

See you there,


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Rap Rocks Revolution: Social Protest Music in Social Media

Rayes Le Bled (Head of State) by El General

On December 17, 2010, after police confiscated his vegetable cart, the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi was a trigger that energized Tunisian youth to take to the streets in protest against a corrupt and repressive government.

At that same time (unrelated to this tragic event) Hamada Ben Amor, a.k.a., “El General” a Tunisian hip-hop musician, produced a rap and uploaded it on his Facebook page and blog, called Rayes Le Bled (Head of State) in which he took direct aim at (then) President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. This searing statement of protest spread viral through online social networking and social media and is also credited as mobilizing the youth in protest.

It was later uploaded to youtube with English subtitles showing El General rapping in front of a mike (see above).

When we talk about the nature of social media and social networking, we generally think in terms of text (written, not spoken expression) on Facebook walls, tweets on Twitter, and messaging within and across these kinds of sites from a variety of wired and wireless devices. Images and videos also play a role in social media as items to be tagged alone, annotated with text, or as illustrations to highlight text.

Social small talk often predominates with a “what’s your status” on Facebook or “What’s happening?” on Twitter, interspersed with promotion, quotes of the day, and useful links to online sources of interest. Music in audio format or as music video plays a similar socially connective role.

Something drastically changes the nature and effect of the social stream when expression is focused on crises like these social protests and there is a strong sense of association with what is occurring.

When music and video are joined in the cause of social protest and made available online, social media and social networking both chase and propel events – in ways we are still trying to assess.

Social protest music and rap music have a long history, but while their effect has been profound in promoting social change, it has never been as swift and on such a global scale.

For social activists and pundits of social media, there is much to be learned from the powerful synergy of the spoken word igniting social response when mixed with music and video and spread through online social networking and social media.

Here are but a few of these powerful social agents of change as online music video on youtube.

Your comments and favorites are welcome in reply,


Youssou Ndour “New Africa” from documentary, I Bring What I Love

Bob Marley “One Love” from the award-winning documentary, “Playing For Change: Peace Through Music”

Gil Scott-Heron “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”

Gil Scott-Heron talks about “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”

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This is how it will work – social media chases social crisis

Google Mapping Violence in Libya

On Sunday, February 20, 2011, Omar Amer (as ShababLibya for the LibyanYouthMovement) tweeted: “we will celebrate the free libya from the square in #tripoli this is how it will work #Libya #Feb17 (god willing).”

If you were following the events unfolding during Sunday, February 20, 2011 and the days leading up to it beginning with the protests on February 17, you would be inclined to think this statement premature.

During these few days, horrific clashes between peaceful protesters and regime-loyal security forces (and mercenaries) in Benghazi and other cities in eastern Libya were filling hospitals with wounded and dead protesters, but the resolve of the people remained strong and their numbers grew despite the dangers.

Yet within hours of tweeting this statement, the wave of protests over the previous three days had finally moved from east to west and into the capitol of Libya like a tsunami. Only four hours later, as Tripoli’s main square was about to be secured as people claimed freedom for their country after 42 years of oppression, their aims were thwarted by a failed regime unwilling to go without exacting a murderous toll on its people.

The usual list of failed regime tactics followed like a formula, from Internet and broadcast media blackouts, to last ditch broadcast attempts to announce concessions and warnings of civil war, but also with new deadly genocidal twists: the beating and shooting of protesters by hired African militias, the injured in hospitals were being killed, and wounded protesters in the streets were being denied access to care.

Trying to keep up with these rapidly changing events was challenging. With broadcaster signals jammed and Internet access varying, newspaper reports delayed beyond unfolding events, and woefully inadequate announcements from foreign governments, you needed to shift to real-time tweets, and video and audio uploads from the protesters themselves and from those whom they were in direct contact with each passing moment.

DJ Meddi tweeted: Facebook status From a Protester in #Tripoli #Libya “Dear friends, am in tripoli and any second I might be killed but it’s ok I will do it for country. In a matter of four hours 80 ppl died in tripoli. They are shooting live bullets at us. to those who died heaven a wait u. Tell the world we died for our country tell them we died with honor. Goodbye”

The Blogs of War Web site at provided several frames in which scrolling tweets related to relevant hashtags (one tracking #Libya and the other tracking: #Gaddafi | #Feb17 | #GreenSquare | #Benghazi | #LibyaVideo | #Tripoli) were displayed along with frames for blog posts and Al Jezeera live streaming video.

The Libya service at provided translations for the Twitter and Google service “SayNow” where people could tweet by simply leaving a voicemail on one of several international phone numbers and the service will instantly tweet the message using the hashtag #libya and #feb17.

In the midst of it all, both protesters and those who supported them continued to share vital information across the country and across the world – even as word that many in the army and tribes were moving to the side of the protesters. Into the early hours of Monday, February 21 and the days to follow, even the real-time flow of tweets had trouble catching up with quickly changing events – retweets and newspaper and TV reports pulling in information from minutes to hours before.

Some “tweeps” expressed their helplessness as these events unfolded, while others pressed on sharing vital information – interspersed by lagging retweets. As during the Egyptian protests, Mona Eltahawy tweeted (as monaeltahawy) with vital information to and from Libya and the world, helping to bridge gaps of understanding.

Arasmus tweeted (as Arasmus) a link to a Google Map (shown above) that provides locations on a map of Libya and brief text descriptions of events each day – Mapping Violence Against Pro-Democracy Protests in Libya:

Crowdsourcing the need to seek support, offered a Web-based petition to send a message directly to all the UNSC delegations, EU Foreign Ministers and the High Representative for the EU to stop the violence and share this with everyone (via twitter and facebook links):

Avaaz is also accepting donations on its site to “blackout-proof” protests through the purchase and distribution of secure satellite modems and phones, tiny video cameras, and portable radio transmitters, plus support to enable activists to broadcast live video feeds even during internet and phone blackouts.

Later in the early hours of that Monday in Libya, Omar Amer (as ShababLibya LibyanYouthMovement) had tweeted again: Tripoli; all of Libya supports you. Libya will be free! #gaddaficrimes #feb17 #libya

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Revolution 2.0 – Social Media for Social Change

Pro-democracy protesters - Tahrir Square Feb. 4, 2011

On January 25, 2011, a social movement in Egypt led by young protesters moved to the streets and by February 11, a despotic regime fell and they continued their long journey on a path to securing human rights, social justice, free elections, and a political system grounded in democracy.

Decades of social activism for human rights and freedom had laid the groundwork for change, but gaining and maintaining the momentum of this thrust leading to the fall of a regime had much to do with the flow of information through the Internet as it did with people in the streets in great numbers and resolve, peacefully protesting for their rights.

“Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one.” – Henry Mencken

This oft-quoted phrase captures the nature of despotic control of communication and flow of information through state-controlled media and its singular message as well as the attempts to control any other sources that would counter that message.

Set against this hegemony of power, successive waves of Internet-driven change have rolled in with broad and often unanticipated effects on social and political forces.

Seizing the imperative to speak out against injustices, many young media-savvy Egyptians leveraged their access to the Internet to voice their protest through blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter streams, and other social networking and social media sites.

With the brutal killing by police of Khaled Said, a young Egyptian, Wael Gholim and other social networkers rallied sentiment toward a protest to be taken to the streets on January 25, 2011.

When they began their protest, they were faced with violent opposition by the police and many of them were killed in the hundreds and injured in the thousands. The regime tried to control the flow of information by blocking social networking sites, temporarily shutting down Internet access and phone service, and arresting and detaining journalists as well as protesters, but by then the communication, cohesion, and resolve of the protesters was too strong to overcome by brute force.

Throughout this struggle, protesters uploaded video to youtube and photos to flickr and other social media sites of these extraordinary, historical events, and they tweeted, blogged, and posted their plans and aspirations on Facebook walls. Independent broadcasters like Al Jezeera streamed video through their Web site and Facebook page of journalists reporting from Tahrir Square and other locations of protest throughout Egypt.

And the world was not only watching this time as they did with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iranian protests, but many of them as social networkers were also re-tweeting protester tweets and posting comments on their blogs and Facebook pages to keep vital information flowing.

The lessons learned from this extraordinary event are certainly focused on the power of people to amass in great numbers and resolve to resist oppression and peacefully protest, but we should also consider the power of the people to control the flow of information through social networking and social media to bring about social and political change, not only from oppressive regimes, but in every aspect of our lives.

Wael Gholim coined the phrase “Revolution 2.0” at the point where positive social change in Egypt was imminent and hindsight revealed the influence of the Internet as a driving force for change. In part, he was reflecting on the prior emergence of Web 2.0 as a change from static information to interactive exchange of information on the Web and the social media platforms through which many voices could be heard to effect change.

As we look forward in time and around us in the world and in every aspect of our lives, we can envision further social change for social good by harnessing the power of the press through social networking and social media – inspired by the resolve and ingenuity of these young Egyptian social activists.

I join all those from around the world who are thankful to them for their courage, sacrifice, and leadership for the sake of human rights and social justice.

Your comments are welcome in reply,


The photo (used under a Creative Commons license) of Tahir Square on Feb. 4, 2011 was taken by Mona Seif. Mona’s photostream on flickr (in which this photo appears):

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Twitter hashtag #jan25 search results

January 25 is an important day in Egypt’s history. On that date in 1952, when British troops stormed a police station where Egyptian police officers acting as commandos were holed up, a Free Officer Movement led to a revolt that later moved the country from a post-colonial corrupt monarchy to a republic.

Ironic as it may seem, this date in 2011 became the official public holiday to celebrate this history as “Police Day.”

This date in 2011 also became a day where the riot police faced down demonstrators seeking a change in their government.

January 25, 2011 is also the day that this date became an iconic “hashtag” on Twitter (#jan25) as one of the ways to follow tweets about the ongoing revolt in the streets of Cairo and throughout Egypt.

Perhaps we need look no further than these events in Egypt to see how social media can be used to support vital needs of communication and learning.

With so much uncertainty and danger in the streets of Cairo and in towns across Egypt and so much need for people to express their ideas in ways that broadcast media cannot address, Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube have become the vox populi of media: the online voice of the people.

If on the days following January 25th, you wanted to know what was going on and know it from the perspective of people who are either in those streets or talking with their family or friends who are there, you would need to turn off the tube and turn on your smartphone or PC and follow these streams of information from the source.

Twitter streams:!/search/%23jan25


Likewise, a search on Egypt on or would generate similar results. However, in Facebook, you will get a long list with only Egypt as your search term. Begin typing “Egypt day of” and the live search feature will attempt to complete your search with relevant topics. As January 25 is also known variously as the Day of Wrath, Day of Anger, Day of Rage, and similar names, you will get more relevant search results. Among broadcasters, Al Jazeera live streaming video feeds in English on Facebook boasts the most feet on the ground: In youtube, to get the latest video uploads, you can search on “egypt revolution” and click on the Search Options link to select Upload Date from the Sort By option and Today from the Upload Date option.

Of course, social networking in this social context relies on access to Internet by those closest to the source, but as the underlying infrastructure is an open architecture, there are limits and workarounds to the censorship that can be achieved when firewalls are closed: alternative IP addresses to access popular social sites, proxy servers, dialup modems, VPN, mobile apps, cloud computing, and a mix of word of mouth and alternative media to the point where Internet access becomes available.

When I consider the role of the Internet and social networking in social change, I can’t help but wonder and wish: if we could engender anything like this need and purpose for social media as one of the ways to positively transform education and training. If we did, we might transform our learning in a meaningful way close to the spirit of what people are doing to reshape their societies for social justice.

The successive waves of Internet-driven change continue to roll in with broad and often unanticipated effect.

A commonly used phrase associated with innovation is “change is inevitable, but not all change is good.”

Planned change can make the difference if we do so in a way that does not marginalize groups of people who are innate stakeholders, but rather enable them and give them a voice in change.

If we don’t find ways to be inclusive in planned change, the ready availability and open system architecture of the Internet and its powerful ways to enable social communication, collaboration, and learning will become the popular back-channel to our “best-laid schemes.”

Comments welcome,


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Internet as Innovation: The Third Wave

In the revision of the Strategic Networking book, the emphasis is on the Internet as an innovation. By viewing the underlying technology infrastructure and the way we layer our use upon it as something that is both new and evolving, we can understand where we belong as individuals, organizations, and societies with respect to change.

By looking back at the first wave of the Internet as a disruptive technological innovation, we can better understand the game-changing and deal-changing effects it has made on traditional social and organizational norms as we began to find ways to use it to communicate, learn, and work.

The effects associated with the second wave of this innovation have been given many names (Internet 2.0, Web 2.0, the read-write Web, etc.), but it’s worth examining the nature of this wave of change as we try to adjust to where it has brought us so far, and where we might be going.

Technological innovations surface at the crest of this second wave, offering greater connectivity and reach. And social and organizational innovations rise with it to make conducting business and forming social communities a reality for all.

If we follow this technological and social change as one that shares a common path with all successful innovations, we can expect further embedding of this technology into every aspect of our lives: dynamic & growing; not merely technological, but social; not merely fixed, but mobile.

But what will this third wave bring in terms of its own innovation? That is something to ponder and plan as individuals, organizations, and society.

One thing is certain, the underlying technology of the first wave is open and scalable – ready for change and growth. And the importance of the social second wave is an inevitable outcome that will follow the path of the first wave in successive waves of growth.

From first glance it appears that with further embedding of this technology into every aspect of our lives, our use will become increasingly mobile and ambient – where objects in our natural and virtual environments merge and create a Web that reaches beyond the computer and into the streets, forests, and beaches where we roam.

Smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices are likely to be the vanguard of many ways in which we can interact through the Internet as we walk, drive, fly, and explore our world – with each other.

What are the ways in which you envision this change? Will we recognize the Internet and the ways we now use it as a bridge to tomorrow or will new waves of technology and social change sweep through and completely redefine the ways we connect?

Comments welcome,


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Learner Experience (LX): A Virtuous Circle

Designing Learning without Learners: A Vicious Circle

Don’t be surprised by any uncertainty or cognitive dissonance in reading the title of this blog entry. I do not expect that invoking this phrase should cause immediate recognition of some existing discipline or perspective.

Although “learner experience” as a concept has appeared to some degree in research and publication, it has generally been used to broadly represent learning from a student perspective or as a surrogate for other concepts, such as prior knowledge.

My use of the concept “learner experience” defines a learner-centered approach to the research, design, development, and delivery of instruction in formal education and training as well as more informal and social modes of learning.

Although my emphasis in promoting this practice is with the adult learner whose needs can be readily and reliably articulated from a personal and professional perspective, I believe that this learner-centered engagement in instructional design decisions can extend (with scaffolding) to younger learner populations.

This perspective on learning and learners is meant to be closely aligned with the concepts and practices of User Experience (UX) for software users and Customer Experience (CX) for customers, and accordingly, it deserves its own acronym, LX.

The reason I invoke it is because of my belief that the learner has not received the same attention in the design and delivery of instruction that software users and customers receive through the application of their respective UX and CX disciplines by researchers and practitioners.

Although it has been a hallmark of my professional services at Program House, most of my prospective clients are not initially aware of how I provide it beyond what is described on my Web site.

When I begin to describe and practice learner experience research and design, it is usually understood in terms of user experience and/or customer experience. I find that acceptable to a point, but would like to argue for the use of learner experience (LX) in a manner that has some overlapping function with UX and CX, but also attends to the unique experience of learning and instruction that someone experiences.

In that context, I am interested in how a person’s capabilities, abilities, needs, expectations, and preferences are addressed in the specific role of a learner in the design, development, and delivery of formal instruction and more generalized learning support.

Like UX and CX, the practice of LX as a discipline should consist of learner needs data collection that captures these characteristics of the target learner population on an individual basis, data analysis from which aggregate representations can be made, learner requirements that are balanced with learning provider requirements, and a conceptual design framework that leads to prototyping and acceptance testing prior to development of instructional materials.

Although this parallels the practice of instructional design, what can make learner experience distinct as a practice is the focus and inclusion of the learner as an active participant throughout every stage of design and development.

In many formal educational and training settings, learners are rarely active participants and decision-makers in instructional and curriculum innovations. Instead of striking a balance between a top-down (organizational) and bottom-up (learners, students, etc.) approach, the instructional drivers are typically restricted to administrative and teacher/trainer decisions.

Whereas UX and CX are generally understood and adopted in organizational practice to some degree, the equivalent approach to LX is a non-starter in all but the most progressive and innovative educational settings.

And that’s my proposal here, that Learner Experience (LX) as a concept and practice is elevated to the equivalent place of importance in education and training as its UX and CX counterparts are in their respective domains of practice.

I don’t expect this to be a fast track to adoption because it faces the same resistance that UX and CX have experienced – largely due to its disruptive nature to how learning providers traditionally handle curriculum and instruction.

I am hopeful though, that LX will come to be understood and practiced as a discipline by those professionals who already value UX and CX and are in the position to address certain instructional innovations with learners and their experience as the impetus and driver at the earliest stages and throughout the process of design and development.

Thankfully, that is the case in many situations, such as teachers and trainers whose action research and instructional innovations are centered in their learners’ experience and expectations as articulated by their learners. My greater hope is that this approach is adopted at and above the curriculum level of educational planned change.

I believe that the Learner Experience (LX) approach can help solve many of the intractable problems that have limited educational reform by transforming the traditional top-down approach from a vicious circle where learning is designed without learners involved into a virtuous circle of fruitful dialog between learners and those that support them.

I welcome your comments in reply,


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Hick’s Law and the role of prior knowledge in choice

Rule-based reasoning plays an important role in interface design as it does in any science based discipline. One of the most commonly invoked rules related to navigation and menu selection is Hick’s Law. As it makes a case for simplicity, let me state it as simply as I can.

In cases where all items have an equal probability of being chosen, the time it takes to choose an item from alternatives is exponentially proportional to the number of choices.

Thus, the more alternatives (such as in a menu) that you present to a user, the longer the time it will take to choose. That is simple enough to understand and apply: keep the amount of choices low, especially where time is an important factor.

However, that interpretation is too reductionist. It does not take into account the condition of all items having an equal probability of being chosen.

This condition depends on the prior knowledge of the users and/or the varying conditions that may influence the range of choice. Where domain knowledge varies widely, Hick’s Law becomes less simple to interpret in terms of under what circumstances and in what manner you should provide fewer choices.

In the case of menu structures, if users generally possess sufficient prior knowledge, they can work with more initial choices, such as an alphabetized list of all choices. However, Hick’s Law can be applied to further reduce time by default settings and user-control of options to keep the choice count down to reasonable levels.

If users vary in their prior knowledge or the conditions that determine choice vary, then a more hierarchical (deeper) menu structure (with submenu levels) may be more efficient. Users begin with fewer, more high level choices in the knowledge domain and proceed through subsequently presented submenus to choose among alternatives of a given subset. In essence, they are learning what they need to know about the knowledge domain to make reasonable choices (in a top-down, general to specific manner).

As this is a form of navigation (through the menu structure), offering “escape” routes back to previous menu levels through “bread crumb” links or a site map (with links to the entire menu structure) can help maintain efficiency.

However, even in the case of experts, having all choices available initially might be too unwieldy. An expert may have knowledge of each item presented in an alphabetized list of names, but if that list is too long, it would be more efficient to create a two-level menu structure where the user would first choose an alphabetical letter (in a list from A to Z) that would link to a shorter, more manageable list of choices (representing names beginning with the chosen alphabetical letter).

All this brings me to the inherent limitation of applying Hick’s Law too uniformly. While it is tempting to do so, this reductionist approach can lead to more inefficient and frustrating user experience.

Navigational and control (response) systems can be designed to automatically adapt or can be manually adapted to varying conditions and user prior knowledge to present the most appropriate menu structure.

Hick’s Law applied in terms of these variables can provide the efficiency and ease of use that arises from offering the more “simple” of alternative choice structures.

Along with prior knowledge, domain-specific training (e.g., formal training, embedded documentation, wizards, etc.) can help to conceptually organize a range of conditions and choices so that they can be addressed by fewer, more selective responses.

Your comments are welcome in reply.

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Wayfinding and the Camino

Wayfinding Signs on Camino de Santiago at Avila, Spain (P. Henry (c) 2010)

Wayfinding Signs on Camino de Santiago

In my research and planning for walking the Camino de Santiago, I was comparing the various routes that lead through Spain to Santiago de Compostela. Aside from rainfall, temperature, and daylight hours, another factor for choosing a given route is the manner in which the pilgrim trails are marked with signage to indicate direction and in some cases, distance to destination.

I realized the importance of wayfinding in the descriptions of these routes as there are not only differences in the physical nature of the paths, but also in the type and extent of signage used to keep pilgrims on the correct path. Typically, (yellow) arrow symbols are used to point to a diverging path, but to what degree are they maintained where vandalism or highway construction has disrupted a path and its signage? Waymarking is also used in this context to describe the specific symbols that identify the route. The Camino is waymarked with a scallop shell symbol to represent St. James. Waymarking also generally describes more modern location references, such as marking points on a route by GPS (which can be used with portable GPS devices to locate points of interest while hiking).

More recent technology innovations include “augmented reality” apps that use a smartphone’s built-in camera to capture images of your surroundings and overlay relevant digital information on the screen. The GPS “geolocates” your current geographic location and field of view and the compass indicates the direction in which you are facing. Based on this data, the application retrieves relevant information from the Internet and overlays it on the smartphone’s display of your current camera view, such as contact information for nearby accommodations, suggested sites of interest, etc.

This convergence of technology in the context of wayfinding an ancient pilgrim path initially seemed incongruous to me, but it made me think about wayfinding as it is used in more modern contexts, such as architecture, urban planning, and navigational systems on software applications and Web sites.

Although we can design “advance organizers” like sitemaps with links to each area on the site or design for “breadcrumb” trails that show users where they have already navigated and provide a linking structure to return, reliable navigation occurs with use and depends on what users can represent mentally (as mental models) of the structure of the Web site or software application.

As our view and experience of the physical world becomes more “augmented” (e.g., GPS, geolocation, Google’s StreetView, etc.), I wonder how our means of wayfinding our information systems will change?

Will our means of “navigation” become so convergent in some cases that our sense of physical and virtual “location” will become (almost) functionally inseparable?

Our world is shrinking conceptually, yet our ability to find our way through the software interface often remains a challenge – and keeps user interface designers and user experience professionals busy.

Has the Camino experience in this context reminded us that it is more than a physical path on which your feet pray, but also a metaphor for finding your way?

Your comments on wayfinding – of all kinds – are welcome in reply.

Buen Camino!


Excerpt from a Camino documentary by Mark Shea:

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The Way We Connect

The Way of St. James - Avila, Spain (P. Henry (c) 2010)

The Way of St. James - Avila, Spain

In my travel to Spain to do research for a book on that topic, I journeyed through the north to Santiago de Compostela and by staying in a small inn outside of the city (the terminus of The Way of Saint James, the pilgrim’s paths through Spain to the Cathedral where the relic remains of Saint James are held and revered), I was able to walk the last mile or two of the Camino that led in from the west of the city. And throughout my travels, I searched for the Camino path wherever it was in proximity.

As I near completion of my travels through Spain, I had been thinking about walking the Camino for a longer distance to capture the connections that pilgrims make with the beautiful countryside, the other pilgrims who walk the path, and of course, with the Divine source that inspires all to make it a spiritual journey – like that of the fisherman from Galilee who walked to the end of the (known) world to spread the Gospel to the people on the Iberian peninsula – all the way to the rugged cliffs overlooking the Atlantic in the northwest corner of Spain.

In planning my subsequent trip through Extremadura and Castilla, I did a Google search on Camino de Santiago and found several links to a film entitled, “The Way” – (completed in 2009-2010) by Emilio Estevez and featuring his father, Martin Sheen. I followed these links to a Web site and to a Facebook page created to support and promote this film.

On the Facebook site, I read a message from Emilio in which he laid out his plans for the premiers and possible distribution of The Way. To my surprise, it appeared that he was filming in and near Santiago de Compostela when I was there on that previous trip and he was more recently premiering and promoting his film in Madrid during the time I was there on my last trip.

What struck me was that broadcast and print media had not made me aware of this film or its production, premier, and promotion occurring when I was physically proximate, such as to attend the premiere in Madrid.

Yet, through the freely available Web-based search and social networking sites, I was able to become informed of it and to interact by making a marketing suggestion in a reply comment on Facebook. By crowdsourcing on his Facebook page, his plans and invitation for ideas to promote the film, Emilio is not only providing the equivalent of a powerful broadcasting message, he has also initiated an equally powerful interaction with many people who might become advocates in promoting the distribution and performance of this film in the United States and throughout the world, especially in situations where there might not otherwise be enough support from traditional media companies.

And by creating this initial content on his Facebook page and Web sites and the outbound and inbound links to it, Emilio is creating a snowballing effect that can achieve higher ranking on search engines – which is how I originally made a connection with his film and promotional efforts.

So in close, I want to thank Emilio, not only for making a film on this important topic, but also for showing the way that we can use our online presence to promote the ideas and artifacts that we value, and share them with others who in turn receive and invest in that value.

And in that spirit of sharing, I welcome your comments on these topics in reply,


The Way (movie) Web site:

The Way (movie) Facebook site:

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