Forum OpenACS Q&A: Response to Pull-down menus and other navigation issues

Well, I do think there was a certain amount of knee-jerk reaction against all things graphical and all things javascript, but it seems to be abating.

At any rate, what I have in mind is broader in scope than pull-down menus--or any single menu tool, really. Besides being able to swap in other navigational metaphors, (much as I like the pull-downs, they're probably not appropriate for every situation), and besides being able to save a huge amount maintenance labor by having the menus auto-update whenever new content is added, what I'm really after is the ability to reconfigure how the site is organized--or imagined, really--on the fly.

This would be tremendously helpful in my biz of eLearning. Say, for example, that a stock brokerage is building a huge repository of educational content about their products. They want stock brokers, sales assistants, customer service representatives, lawyers--just about any employee who needs product knowledge--to be able to have access to that content.

Of course, not everyone will need access to the same slice of training materials in the same order. Brokers will need to learn different details about, say, IRAs than will customer service reps. And a broker who is hired fresh out of school will have different learning needs than a broker who is hired from a competitor. And, of course, even people with the same jobs and experience levels learn differently, so broker A may need more graphs and visual content, while broker B, who is blind, needs an all-audio program, and broker C, who is an avid reader and a quick study, wants just text with lots of bullet points.

(BTW, I just pulled the brokerage example out of a hat. It could just as easily be a hospital, a large social action group, a car manufacturer, or a consortium of high schools.)

At any rate, with all that content to learn, the last thing the individual learners need to do is spend their time figuring out how to navigate it. It would be nice if the menus could be customized based on input like learner profiles, their personal preferences, pre-test results, and so on. Once you know who they are, then you organize the content so that the stuff they are most likely to want is easiest to access, the stuff they might want later is accessible, and the stuff they really aren't likely to want is completely out of their way and off the main menus.

You could envision the same sort of thing at, say, The information needs of a novice photographer interested in taking good family vacation shots is very different than the needs of a veteran nature photographer who posts more answers than questions. I can imagine presenting different menu structures to the two different photographers. Later, the users could customize their menu system based on their own preferences. Or perhaps the system itself could notice what the users do and suggest changes.

As far as I can tell, the first thing you need in order to build a system like this is to have a method for providing at least several different fields of meta-data about each web page that can be accessed by an external system (e.g., a menu generator).