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Hochmair Hartwig

The Wayfinding Metaphor—
Comparing the Semantics of Wayfinding in the Physical World and the WWW


Wayfinding is a common human task. The terms ‘wayfinding’ and ‘navigation’ are traditionally associated with an activity that takes place in the real world. The development of new electronic media induces humans to navigate artificially created environments, e.g., the World Wide Web (WWW), computer games, or virtual environments. Although real environment and artificial environment show different features—e.g., in the definition of a distance between places or in the organization of space—we claim that the concepts of wayfinding in the real world can also be found in the WWW.

A goal of the thesis is to determine what the term wayfinding means, i.e., to describe the semantics of wayfinding. Analyzing several wayfinding definitions in literature we found that there is no unique meaning for the term wayfinding, although there seem to be some core properties of the underlying process. Therefore we consider wayfinding to represent a radial category. From the analyzed definitions we get the central meaning of wayfinding, and describe it through a set of axioms. The axioms define constraints on agent and environment. If the axioms are satisfied, the activity performed by the agent describes a wayfinding process.

Another goal of the thesis is to show that within the wayfinding metaphor, the semantics of wayfinding is similar for both the real world and the WWW. We hereby abstract the conceptual wayfinding model through algebraic specifications and give two parallel instantiations. We show that both instantiations satisfy the axioms, and thus the term ‘wayfinding’ can also be used for the Web space—expressing a similar semantics as in the physical world.

The axioms are invariant under the applied strategy and the type of environment. Therefore we can choose any wayfinding strategy that is capable of coping the wayfinding tasks given in the two cases studies (where the environment is unknown to the agent). The chosen wayfinding strategy relies on ‘information in the world’ and applies a semantic decision criterion. A wayfinding simulation shows that the formal algebraic specifications of the agent-based model are executable.

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