Social Psychological Principles of 
Home Page Architecture

Dr. Leon James
Professor of Psychology
University of Hawaii
original: 1994 updated: 1996; 1997; 1998; 2012

 

Table of Contents

Birth of Cyberspace
Home Pages are Loved
Cyberspace Home
Taxonomy of Home Pages and Links
The Function of Home Pages
The Function of Links
Principles of Cyberspace Architecture for Virtual Learning Communities
Psychological Characteristics of Hypertext Links
Informational Content of Home Pages
Stylistic Features of Home pages

 

Birth of Cyberspace

In 1994 the Web that most people know today in 2012 was just being born.  At that time someone asked me why I needed to spend so much time online. I had a hard time explaining it to someone who had never been online. I think it just sounded like a lot of busy work on the keyboard, man battling a machine for several hours every day, alone at a keyboard, and usually facing the wall. How utterly empty this view was and is today. I don't think I could be persuaded to engage in this activity if it were anything like that inaccurate description.

Back in 1994 I tried to explain it this way to the inquirer. You see, I have two homes, my regular house and my Home Page. My regular house requires upkeep, naturally, and we clean and tend the plants, and fix things, and shop around for things that go in it, and of course, we give loving care to our cats who see themselves as part of the house. All this, in distributed time over the weeks and months, takes several hours a day. The person I was talking to nodded in agreement. This he could understand. A house takes daily work to upkeep. He had one himself. So now, I continued.

My Home Page is my other house. It sits in cyberspace. I had a difficult time explaining why I call a bunch of computer files on my drive by the name of "my house" or "my home." He had a bunch of folders and files on his computer and he didn't see why he should call them his house. Well, that's not it. I don't use the term "my home" for just any bunch of computer files around. But these particular files are connected to the Internet. This means that millions of people could look at them, at any time, and read them, or copy them to their own computer. In fact any navigator in cyberspace who lands on your Home Page can copy them at the flick of the mouse. For all I know my Home Page, or sections thereof, can have thousands of duplicates of itself all around the world.

I sat there in silence, enjoying the aftereffects of this grand image of the twins and cousins of my Home Page sitting out there on the information highway for thousands of people to admire and visit. “What do you mean, "visit", my friend said. “They are just looking at a few of your files. That's all. It's a kind of a file-sharing system, isn't? We have one at the office. A few people are using it.”

This is not going to be easy. I knew it right from the start. It's true that the Internet is one giant file-sharing system! Billions of computers worldwide are hooked into it and users can see, copy, and transfer files with each other. In fact this was the start of Internet in the 1970s and early ‘80s in the form of a few government and academic research places that hooked themselves together by long distance telephone lines and satellites. Scientists could exchange instantaneous mail messages with each other, could transfer the latest reports as they were being typed, and transmit data files to each other at high speeds. For the first time in the history of humankind, working teams in different locations could overcome to some extent the distance barrier.

No one used the word "Home" to describe these newly emerging computer networks. A few other things had to happen, namely platforms, clients, browsers, servers, and high-speed modems (back in the early years) in thousands of people's homes, regular homes that is. One day in the early 1990’s Netscape, and a few look-alikes, quietly entered the electronic network and began to multiply itself, first by the thousands, then by the millions. Thus was born the World Wide Web in cyberspace. For the first time in human history, people could create virtual homes and visit with each other in them.

Cyberspace was born, ushering in a new age for civilization.

 

Home Pages are Loved

“OK” my friend said, seemingly impressed, “show me this Netscape business. How do we get on ramp on the information super-highway?” I was anxious to get online. Back in 1994 getting on was often a problem. We waited while the modem kept redialing the busy number. After 15 minutes he began ribbing me. “So, is the highway to your virtual house always so busy? Are you sure you got the right address?”  Eventually I got in -- what a relief -- and proudly presented him my Home Page. I was ecstatic. I looked at my latest background color, a light lemon shade, soft yet distinctive.

I was proud the way the whole Page fit into one screen. There was even a little space left at the bottom. I worked hours to get that little extra space. It brings out the shading in table border and best of all, it lets you know that that's all there is. You don't have to wonder or try the Page Down key or scroll the bar. It all neatly fits into one screen full, giving you a chance to relax your hand and take in the information. Today in 2012, my Home Page still fits into one screen, but I’ve eliminated all the color and splash of the initial years. But by 2009 my Home Page looked similar to what it is today (you can see a 2009 version of it on the Internet Archive known as the Wayback Machine).

My friend said, “So this is it. This is what you spend hours a day at.”

I began to despair. Click on anything you want. It'll take you there. He did. Again and again he clicked away on every screen that came up. I could hardly keep myself from trying to interfere with him, from speaking harshly at him saying, “Don't just click like that on anything. Examine first. Appreciate it. Look at the whole thing. Scroll up and down several times. Wait. Look at that design layout. Isn't it magnificent? Look at that background with little yellow roses and pink tulips. Notice the way the little balls next to each link are shaded at the bottom, giving it a 3-D effect.” But I did not speak out loud. My friend looked impassively at the Java applet's animations and listened to the dorky welcome message in a computerized voice. My friend said, “Well they've got a long way to go before this starts competing with TV. This is kids stuff.” I made no effort to stop him when he proposed that he'd seen enough just five minutes later.

Later, when I got over my disappointment, I realized that there are two views possible regarding the Internet, one external and the other internal. My friend, along with many influential people in government, education and industry, are going to have only an external view. And this view is uninviting, unattractive, and unexciting. How fast the Internet spreads, how much it costs, how it can be used for increasing business sales, for delivering distance education, and making electronic libraries and information databases more accessible to all people. These external considerations regarding Internet are necessary and worthwhile. The new tele-technology is a boon to society worldwide. We need to protect and foster its development through appropriate and wise legislation and international agreements. I support and applaud this. But it is not where my love is. My love is in My Home Page architecture -- and this requires an inside view, a perspective obtainable only through doing the work of a cyberspace architect.

Cyberspace Home

I find that Home Pages are always under construction for those owners who are personally involved. Constructing Home Pages on the World Wide Web is an exciting activity! Just think: you have the world at your fingertips. Because you determine what the browser sees or has access to, you are acting like a virtual god -- building a cyberspace architecture through virtual pathways to people's minds.

In the early days of Web Pages, starting in 1993 and 1994, most netizens who owned cyberspace real estate put up a nice big WELCOME TO MY HOME PAGE sign. But by1996, people like to be more sophisticated. You see signs that say "Vance's Corner" or "Where I hang out" and commercial places may rely directly on content, like "World's Largest Electronic Shopping Mall" or "You've Made it to the Home of Fantasy Baseball" and "Cyberspace Hotel -- Enter Here."

The next time my friend visited my regular house, I twisted his arm and forced him to visit my cyberspace home. Why do you call it Home Page Site? Isn't it a Home Page? Yes it is a Home Page but since it is the entry point for hundreds of other Home Pages I set up, I call it my Home Page Site. I explained that I teach through a generational approach so that every semester dozens of new Home Pages get set up in my sub-directories that are linked to my Home Page. So my Home Page acts like a cyberspace gateway to hundreds of my students’ Home Pages, and theirs in turn are made of different components such as home pages, databases, indexes, and collections of things. “You can get lost in here”, he said. I think this time he was definitely impressed.

I told him to click on the Complete Site Index link. I was beaming with excitement as hundreds of topics scrolled by, screen after screen, in neat double columns, each entry being a live link to one of my articles or that of a student. This was a tremendous wealth of educational information and entertainment which I collected or “curated” in my own virtual estate, which a visitor can have free, simply by clicking on any entry. I spend hours a week building and updating my Complete Site Index Page. My students spend hours a week doing their Index. Home Page architecture is labor intensive. At this stage (in the 1990s) I could not afford software that allows you to maintain and monitor Web sites, so I had to do everything by hand myself, after learning to compose and edit html code. One nice benefit of doing it alone by hand: you get to know intimately what are the interstitial structures that create the information superhighway. One disadvantage: you don't have enough control on its expansion, creating fallow places, lost directories, dead links, and outdated looks.

The shape of cyberspace is dependent on hypertext technology. The magical word here is "link." From the outside perspective, a link is a virtual tele-transporter on your Page. Click on it, and in one or a few more seconds, you are inside someone else's cyberspace castle. You can't tell by the travel time how far you've gone. You can go from one of my Pages to a student Page that is physically located on the same computer. Or you can go to a Page in Paris or Moscow or Tokyo and it will take about the same amount of time. The time factor actually varies and depends not on distance, but on traffic density. If 200 students and 1000 visitors are all trying to look at the same Page at the same time, they will each experience a few seconds of delay while the computer is scrambling to serve each visitor's request to view something.

In another article I discuss the significance of links as follows:

Spirituality and Cyberspace

Having drawn a connection between cyberspace and mind, one is led to investigate the spiritual implications of virtual reality since mind and spirit are closely related, as shown by the root word "psych-" or "psyche" which refers to both mind and spirit. Virtual presence is created through access and usage that are determined by interests and intentions, both of which are spiritual acts. When we choose to click on a hypertext link we are performing a spiritual act.

Our virtual traveling creates a trail with visible consequences affecting others.

The act of clicking creates virtual reality, shapes it, makes it denser, more visible, more accessible to self and others. A popular Web site is a spiritual beacon for netizens, visible around the globe, attracting children and adults, men and women, individuals and groups, communicating with them, bringing them together through the communal mind of shared information and activities, thus transcending demographic and ethnic identities.

Clicking in hyperspace is equivalent to one's spiritual practice in daily life. This is because clicking is at once a moral, ethical, economic, and psychological act. A rapidly growing market of the Internet software industry owes its success to the fact that clicking is a spiritual act. These programs allow information managers such as servers, teachers, and parents, to influence the clicking acts of users. Some specialize in filtering out unsuitable sites so as to bar access to certain cyberspace zones and virtual activities and services. Other filtering programs are intended as guides and pathfinders to various specialized topics. The idea of controlling access to communal mind is quite familiar in education, law, and spiritual discipline. Teachers forbid swearing, county by-laws forbid obscenity, polite company forbids taboo topics. These social controlling mechanisms are motivated and justified by moral and spiritual considerations. Clicking or not clicking has become the big moral issue for everyone on the Internet.

Not clicking is a moral act

Refusing to click is a judgment. Virtual communities are created and maintained by the continued willingness to click. Preventing someone from clicking is an ethical issue. Promoting clicking by making a link available and attractive is not only an economic and legal act, but moral as well. A link is made attractive through its appeal to particular human interests and intentions, of which there are many varieties, some that merit our support, others that we would want to avoid or even condemn in spirit.

Some people allow their bookmarks file to be public, possibly not realizing that the bookmarks document is a fossilized or permanent record of their moral choices in clicking.

New site management software applications allow detailed monitoring and record keeping of cyber-visitors -- the IP address of the computer you are using, how long you stay on a Page, which links you click on, in which order and how often. A permanent “cookie” file can be kept on your logon identity, giving the cumulative record of your visits and revisits to particular site. Unknown to you, a user profile is set up on you which is then sold to interested advertisers, companies, and paying customers.

An individual's cumulative lifetime bookmarks or history file constitutes a spiritual biography of that person.

As technology improves, global clicking patterns can be recorded and analyzed. Through the growth of cyberspace new research is now possible on the mind of individuals and the planet's communal mind, its content, development, and direction of evolution. Can we shape our future with more precision and greater wisdom? Can people's lives be changed by the forces of virtual reality? These are important questions which cyberpsychology will be expected to answer.

Spiritual psychology is deeply involved in assuring our success in the global information society by creating the motive and method for assessing and managing the growth of the communal mind. Virtual reality has the potential of creating good and evil forces for netizens and cybercommunities. It is a spiritual fact that both good and evil forces or environments exist in the human mind. Information and activity in cyberspace can generate forces of addiction and persuasion that can influence our decisions, judgments, and actions online and off.

External methods of controlling access and activity are being tried such as using filtering mechanisms to intercept or block clicking. Firewalls, filtered access, sub-nets, monitoring, and other methods are being used to manage people's clicking activity in cyberspace. I believe that we also need to develop more internal methods that encourage self-control in freedom. Spiritual psychology looks for methods of internalizing control through self-witnessing and self-modification motivated in freedom by principled choice and educated preference. What is chosen in freedom is chosen from love, and this is internal, remaining with the person forever. Interests and intentions define and reveal mind or spirit.

With spiritual psychology, in collaboration with cyberpsychology, society gains the ability to direct its future into chosen directions. Freedom is essential to assure the internalization of self-control through guided self-modification techniques.

Cybercommunities need to follow practices that encourage the activity of leaders and heroes who set the pace, the norm, the standard of excellence and honesty for others to admire, support, and emulate. Leaders can be given recognition, awards, and privileges, not only for their own sake, but for the sake of all in the community whose ideals are legitimized when admired netizens are rewarded for their virtual activities which benefit the cybercommunity.

 

Taxonomy of Home Pages and Links

People's clicking choices determine traffic, and traffic determines the density or shape of cyberspace. If no one ever clicks a link on a Page, it becomes an un-link in the zone of virtual silence. A link always has a purpose or function. Some reason exists why each link is there. A link may exist because it leads to another section of a document or to a continuation Page. It thus has a sequencing function. Or a link may be there because it is a reciprocal link to another link ("I'll put a link to your Page if you put a link to my Page"). A link may allow you to complete a step in a circular route, or it may be the central link acting as a pivot to other links.

Similarly, Home Pages have a motivating force determined by the reason for their existence. There are three broad categories of Home Pages that relate to their intent. For example, a Home Page may be the landing point for a Site that contains hundreds of Home Pages and even hundreds of sites attached together to form a cyberspace village or compound. The Page that leads to all other Pages thus has an introductory function. Some Pages are put up for artistic or expressive reasons while others fulfill a topical or indexical function presenting categories or sub-directories of organized information.

I have prepared the following taxonomy to show the various combinations of Home Pages and Links that I have noticed on the Web in my observations during 1995.

Types of Home Pages

Types of Links
(numbers 1 to 12 refer to explanations below)

 

Sequential
(direct)

Reciprocal
(mutual)

Circular
(recursive)

Central
(pivotal)

Artistic
(expressive)

9

10

11

12

Indexical
(topical)

5

6

7

8

Standard
(introductory)

1

2

3

4

The Function of Home Pages

Standard
(introductory)
(boxes 1 to 4)

Indexical
(topical)
(boxes 5 to 8)

Artistic
(expressive)
(boxes 9 to 12)

acts as a pivot
explains areas
uses broad titles
is ordinarily kept short

gives direct access
organizes a content area or subject
uses specific titles
can be long

attracts attention
uses multimedia
promotes a view or philosophy
builds and encourages identification

The Function of Links

Sequential Links
(boxes 1,5,9)

Reciprocal Links
(boxes 1,5,9)

Circular Links
(boxes 1,5,9)

Central Links
(boxes 1,5,9)

gives access
facilitates exploration

enriches content

guides exploration
guides access

builds a sense of familiarity
facilitates access

Principles of Cyberspace Architecture for Virtual Learning Communities

1.     The more links are created in a hypertext super-document, the richer it is culturally (i.e., in terms of ethnolinguistic, sociolinguistic, and psycholinguistic analyses).

Description:
              ttp://www.soc.hawaii.edu/leonj/leonj/leonpsy/instructor/inet95_new1.gif

2. The size of a cyberspace nook or area can be measured in terms of megabyte-links. For example, the size of this cyberspace learning community at the end of the first generation is given by:
15 x 50 x 40 = 30,000 megabyte-links

Where:

15 = megabytes of text in the generational super-document
50 = average number of links in each student's document
40 = number of students in the first generation

3. The growth of cyberspace is organic. As the number of interconnecting links increases, the cyberspace develops further. The analysis of the cyberspace yields data on naturally occurring virtual learning communities of interest to the fields of psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics and ethnolinguistics.

4. Cyberspace is a representative model of the mental world, which means the spiritual world.

Psychological Characteristics of Hypertext Links

From the psychological perspective, hypertext links in a virtual super-document created by members of a cyberspace learning community have three characteristics: affective, cognitive, and sensorimotor.

A link is a communicative act by which a member of the community transmits new information or new meaning by connecting two independent ideas which have not been related before. Links in a virtual learning community are thus motivated actions or behaviors responding to members' wishes to exchange and communicate their mental life to each other.

The affective feature of links refers to their motivation. It answers the question, Why the link was created, or, What was the person's purpose for putting a link there.

The cognitive feature of links refers to their argument or implication. It answers the question, What new information or knowledge is being created through the link, or, What is the new idea that is communicated by the link.

The sensorimotor feature of links refers to their location and appearance. It answers the question, How the link was created, or, What is its physical appearance.

The study and analysis of linkage structure is the study and analysis of communicative acts in cyberspace by members of a virtual learning community. It is the natural history of culture (ethnography), language (ethnolinguistics, sociolinguistics, and psycholinguistics), and behavior (social psychology).

Informational Content of Home Pages

We need to look at our Home Pages with an objective eye. In general, we try to achieve two important results with a Home Page. One is that it should be clear (unconfusing), informative and useful. The other is that it should be beautiful, with a creative and entertaining style. These two aspects can be discussed as the informational and stylistic features of Home Pages.

Whether long or short, we want our Home Pages to be, above all, clear. Clarity and orderliness greatly help the fight against confusion. Look at your Page and ask yourself how visitors would react, where their eyes would go, what can they conclude, what clues can you give them, what are they to do next, and so on. Therefore you need to take charge of your Home Pages. You need to manage the visitors, choreograph their steps (or hops), so to speak. Make them feel guided, rather than left alone in an impersonal system.

Since your Home Pages are actually Web Sites, you need to have a clear image of how your files are interrelated, and transmit this image to visitors. Always connect every file to a central location (e.g., your main Home Page and the Instructor's Home Page). Your links within the files should be paragraph-specific, which means they need the Name Tag code in the target text.

Be sure to maintain a Topical Index to your Web pages, and keep it up to date with paragraph-specific links to your pages. The Index should also replicate (or mirror) the within-text links you have in your reports to other generational areas.

Stylistic Features of Home pages

Above all, be sure that visitors don't end up waiting impatiently for your Page to load. No spiffy background effect or spectacular images will be appreciated by cybernauts who have to wait precious seconds for you to load just so you can show off!! So how much is too long to wait? In my opinion, the shorter the better. As a rule of thumb, I would say that anything more than 10 secs. is too long to wait for a Home Page. This rule is different for long text files with no images. These can be tolerated since they yield text or content, not just appearance.

You can reduce loading time by keeping a copy of the background in your directory (rather than a URL address) and by choosing backgrounds that load very quickly, instead of slowly (they vary enormously). Or you can choose to have no background and use other means. It is the same with icons, some are big files and take long to load, others are small files. You can tell by looking at the K value on the file when you copy or download it. You can also save much precious time by using the same background file in several places since it doesn't need to reload as you switch files within your Web Site. Another important principle is to arrange things so that some of the text gets loaded first, so that while it's loading the rest, visitors have something to do to occupy those precious few seconds!

The links need to be close together, but not too close. Avoid wasting screen area (where there is nothing). Avoid forcing visitors to keep paging down unless the text itself requires it (as in reports). Avoid being frivolous since this is an educational and scientific cybercommunity! On the other hand, it's good to have a certain tone or mood that is definite and recognizable. This tone could be serious or humorous (but not frivolous or adolescent). The ultimate purpose and justification for links is to be useful in navigation for cybernauts.


Here are some related articles by Leon James:

What is Cyber-Psychology?
What is Spiritual Psychology?
An Experiment in Course-Integrated Use of the World Wide Web

Here are some related articles by cyber-psychology students:

Lori Morita's Philosophy of Home Page Architecture -- Part 1 and |Part 2|
Yoon Cho's View of Cyberspace
Christina Kealoha's Explanation of the Social Psychological Meaning of Home Pages.
Leslie Francis on Home Page Architecture--G5
Edward Sugimoto on Web Design and Publishing--G4
Scott Chang's Web Architecture--G5
Thinking Critically about World Wide Web Resources
IreneLau on the Generational Web Sites
Navigating the Generational Curriculum: A Frame Solution by Mr. Tan
Ryan Shintani's Web Design Psychology--G5


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