Albers, M. (2005): Introduction to Communication of complex information : user goals and information needs for dynamic Web information

Albers, M. (2005). Introduction. Communication of complex information : user goals and information needs for dynamic Web information (pp. 1-28). Mahwah  N.J. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Pub.



Purpose of this book is about designs that help people learn info.


argues important issues often ignored: how user needs should be defined, what are needs, what info supports needs, how it should be presented.


complicating this is the complexity of situations.


Points to content management systems. "Complex situations requiring complex information presentation are a way of life in the moern world" (5). Notes computing systems argue for a certain way of presenting information. "In this book, I am concerned with designing to improve himan performance within specific situations through the interactions between human and computer" (5). 


Points to disconnect between what person wants to accomplish and info the system provides. Argues need better ways to "integrate and communicate the information to a user" (7). Info often there, but not understandable. 


Beyond single sourcing-- using XML to tailor text to users'' needs. 


"This book provides one view of handling the problem of analyzing the situation and presenting dynamic information for complex open-ended situations. The remainder of this opening chapter lays out a model of the situation, user goals, and information needs, and then provides definitions of simple, complicated, and complex situations" (9).


Model of situation, goals, and information needs


the computer system--one of five elements; decentralized. Elements: Situation, Goal, Information need, People, System.


Simple, complicated, and complex situations


definition depends on perspective; really on a continuum. 


Simple: single path to solution/closed system (eg ATM)


Complicated: Total sys is sum of parts; multiple paths to solution; info req''s to answer question predefined; part of closed system (eg Tax software)


Complex: total system more than sum of parts; multiple paths to solution exists; info reqs to answer question cannot be predefined; effect of overall system of change in one fac cannot be predicted; part of open system (eg car buying, traffic flow).


Complex situations are not well understood


lack of empirical research. Missing interactions which occur between multiple variables as they all vary within a situation, interactions too complex to capture in a lab setting and be controlled for.


also knowledge of methods for presenting info to support problem solving not well-researched. 


Overview of Coming Chapters


need to define information needs required to define goals and understand how goal and info applies to situation. 


Ch. 2: This chapter then introduces the six characteristics that define a complex situation (no single answer, open ended, multidimensional, historical, dynamic, and non-linear), and provides an extended discussion of each one.


Ch. 3: User goals: what makes up the goals in a complex situation/how they relate to info needs


Ch. 4: Info needs: 


Ch. 5: People providing 


Ch. 6: System: need to scale for complex situations


Ch. 7: Process for addressing complex situations (8 steps).