Optimizing Web Surfing Pathways for the Overloaded
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 27 Jul 2015
Polyhedral Insights from the Travelling Salesman Problem of Operations Research
Web users have an increasing concern with how best to manage their web surfing experience given the constraints of time and information overload. The question explored here is a possible means of moving beyond a browser checklist of links (“Favourites”) and bookmarks, whether or not these are carefully nested within menus and organized by theme.
One early approach was the webring — popular in the 1990s and early 2000s. This is a collection of websites linked together in a circular structure, and usually organized around a specific theme, often educational or social. Given the subsequent development of search engines, a current priority is building links between websites and ensuring that these are not vulnerable to abusive manipulation. The challenge of organizing relationships between websites can also be explored in terms of the conversation threading of internet exchanges (Interweaving Thematic Threads and Learning Pathways: noonautics, magic carpets and wizdomes, 2010).
A fundamental issue for any web user is how many websites to inspect with what priority and with what frequency, given the constraints of information overload. There are naturally limits to how much time to invest, as well as the desire and the capacity to absorb information, as discussed previously (Investing Attention Essential to Viable Growth: radical self-reflexive reappropriation of financial skills and insights, 2014).
As explored here, this condition for “information consumers” bears a curious resemblance to much-studied preoccupations of operations research and theoretical computer science — known as the travelling salesman problem (TSP) and the travelling purchaser problem. These can be explained as determining the shortest possible route between a set of cities, given the known distances between each pair of cities, with a final return to the city of origin. For example, applications exist enabling any vehicle driver to determine the fastest roundtrip between multiple destinations as a complement to Google maps.
The resemblance is all the more striking in that the web user may be as much a consumer of information at each site as intervening proactively there in some form of advocacy or marketing role. More generally the web user could even be understood as adopting an oversight or surveillance posture with respect to any new information on each of the sites selected. The question explored here is how insights from operations research might inform the organization of the hyperlink pathways along which the web surfer might most efficiently travel within the time accorded to such activity.
The degree of possible relevance to web surfing is illustrated by recent research on application of TSP to the consumer shopping experience (James J. Jong Hyuk Park, et al. Future Information Technology: FutureTech 2013). Of much greater interest here is the challenge of integrative comprehension of the pattern of insights garnered and cultivated whilst engaged with the web. The possibility explored is that there is a case for polyhedral organization of the pattern to render it memorable and insightful as a whole — since the constraints of geographic dispersion no longer apply in cyberspace.
If one is in the habit of visiting 5,10, 20, 50 websites (or more) at various frequencies, the issue is whether there are more fruitful ways to organize such a tour? Given the challenge of information overload, does this provide a more meaningful context to explore the increasing problem of “link fatigue” — namely exposure to yet another link one is encouraged to investigate? Might such organization enable habitual patterns to be transcended such as to ensure the emergence of more integrative insights?
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 27 Jul 2015.
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