NZ scientists take Back to the future

Kiwi computer scientists are redesigning the one thing internet users use the most - the back button - hoping to make it easier for people to navigate the net.

Billions of web pages are viewed each day and the back button accounts for over 40% of all mouse clicks people make online.

Dr Andy Cockburn of the University of Canterbury says the two main problems with the back button are that all recently seen pages cannot be revisited and that many users misunderstand its operation.

The back button works on a hierarchy based system much like the way a website is designed. It stores index pages but not the pages viewed within those particular layers. This has the potential to disorient some users when previously seen pages seem to have disappeared.

Cockburn and his colleagues re-programmed internet browsers' back buttons with a temporal system that records the order pages are viewed rather than their hierarchy.

They tested the browsers' effectiveness by having users undergo a series of navigational tasks with both the new and the current systems.

In a paper published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies they say they found no overall significant difference between the two systems. They say it was heartening that people performed comparably well using their unfamiliar system.

Although the new system creates far more points of reference it can be radically more efficient if the back button's pull-down menu is used, says Cockburn.

News source: nzoom - NZ scientists take Back to the future

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