Model of Attraction
(or Information Magnetism)

Draft - March 2001

In previous discussions revolving around the navigation metaphor, which is used to explain how users interact with the Web and as a model to frame developing Web information structures, there was a consensus that the navigation metaphor is rather limited. We put forward the metaphor of attraction (magnetism, gravity, chemical, etc.) as an alternative. This is an initial draft.

A metaphor is only a framework in which to provide a paradigm for thinking about and/or explaining ideas. The use of metaphor is not a substitution for technical discussion, but a way of summarizing action, interaction, and use of ideas for discussion, planning, and assessing development and implementation. In short the metaphor provides an easily understood context for discussion, exploration of concepts, which leads to actionable development that ultimately provides a usable product that is relatively intuitive for the users. The metaphor provides a correlative frame to discuss and think about the unknown (or not easily grasped) theories, concepts, and development of technologies. The metaphor is often a more easily understood or more commonly understood repository of reference terms. Every metaphor will break in its attempt to explain the actual paradigm as it is only a shadow of the actual matter at hand. In addition to the It seems that a good metaphor would use an easily understood reference point, would extend easily to cover multiple levels of understanding, and work to not only explain the use, but a framework for the development as well.

The Navigation Metaphor

The navigation metaphor is the common model used to explain how users interact with the Web. The navigation metaphor tries to provide a framework to explain users moving to and through an information space. Navigation where an aggregation of information and the methods used to find and get the information. The navigation model has limitations and really does not provide a solid framework for how information is grouped for easy access to the user.

The navigation framework invokes the user travelling to the information (not actually the case as information/content on the Web is brought to the user's screen/computer); Navigation works well for helping frame how users interact with the interface by selecting terms or icons that represent moving in a direction that would take them to an information space where they could find the specific information they seek or the general areas they want to explore; Navigation begins to breakdown for the developers in grouping or categorizing information as it often causes a shift to a different metaphor and the grouping of information/content in a navigation framework does not easily lead to an actionable development process. The navigation metaphor also breaks then extending beyond the Web environment to machine readable interaction (P2P and information agents), personalization, search, and portability of information on various devices.

Metaphor of Attraction

The Model of Attraction (MoA) may provide a more extendable framework and one that works easily for innovators and developers of Internet based information application (including Web pages) as well as the users of the applications. The MoA can be used to:

These elements revolve around how information and the user interact by using interfaces. This will help explain how information gets in front of the user and how users make choices with information options.

Those using applications for machine interaction information transactions will also benefit from the MoA as terms of information transaction and information aggregation revolve around the magnetic draw of the information to the user (in this case an application or system). The idea and movement toward the Semantic Web revolves around the nearness of information or levels of attraction of terms and vocabulary.

How Attraction Works

A user is looking for information and sets their framework for pursuing this goal of getting the information. The user begins with their information interface of choice (search engine, portal, bookmarks, etc.). The user has set a term of attraction in their mind to draw certain information to themselves. Setting a term in a search box and clicking go begins the interaction. Information that is drawn to that term, like a magnet draw metallic objects to it, and optimally repels information that is not germane to that term. This should help narrow the possibilities from all information down to a smaller subset of information. The user then is attracted to terms or meta information that seems to have an attraction. A large set of information can be further pared down by adding another term that will increase the attraction of that information to the user and lessen the attraction to information that does not have as much draw. The user follows this method until they have found the information they are seeking or the attraction wanes and the user tries setting other terms of attraction.

A user can also use static interfaces with hyper links or other grouped presentations of information for selection. The user reads or scans the surrounding information and visual clues in the presentation of information for an attraction to their terms of attraction. The user will click on hyper links to draw information closer to themselves to examine and choose options to gain further information or draw information with a stronger attraction.

Not only does the attraction revolve around textual information, but the visual presentation and visual attraction of the presentation can strengthen or weaken the attraction between the user and information. A visual presentation that is not what the user has set as a predisposed framework for the visual clues they expected can repel the user. The negative attraction can be appropriate if the information store is not what the user is seeking. A user that is seeking an academic paper on molecular biology would most likely not spend a great amount of time at Praystation if their set attraction is academic research papers. The interface has the wrong visual attraction to provide an attraction in context. Conversely a user looking for digital art would not stay long at Jakob Neilsen's site.

Setting attraction levels to information to draw that information to the user in various contexts. As the Internet grows beyond the Web in the minds of the general public attraction can be used to provide a framework to discuss and provide actionable development for P2P, information agents, personalization, mobile information access and use, etc. Information devices serve as our conduits of this attraction to digital information. A P2P community can be estbeablished around a community that has the same interests, with this attraction to the community drawing them together. The P2P community uses metadata as their wrapping the content the community is built around. Information agents can be set to attract information so that the human user does not have to perform the work of finding the information. Personalization tools attract and repulse information to ease the information flow and reduce information overload. The user can also set the attraction to certain sets of information that is attracted to them as a rough cloud of digital information that follows them via digital devices that interact with each other so a user can have the address of their friend's new house and possibly the directions follow them from the e-mail they received on the user's laptop onto the user's cell phone or PDA so that the information is mobile. The setting of information attraction to follow is not a concept that easily works in the frameworks of scent or navigation.

A content management system is a great conduit for setting attraction for the users purposes. The CMS, in separating information/data, from the presentation, and even the application used for delivery allows the user a great amount of freedom in setting attractions. The user could set their personalization attractors to provide an interface to the content that is pleasing to them. The user could set the desired symbology used or synomic frame of reference (an academic would use a different set of terms for categories to the same or similar information grouping than would a junior high school student or general public (an interior designer specializing in chromatics may set personalization to attract information relating to sub-cognitive reactions to hue, where as an office manager may set attractions to retrieve color and feelings for reception areas. These users would attract similar information but would be framed in terms that are more familiar to user.)

MoA for Information Architects

The MoA provides a framework for Information Architects (IAs) to build systems and structures for ease of information access. The grouping of information based on a user's mental model of the information is early described and discussed in the levels of attraction the user has to certain information. The building of taxonomies and thesauri is closely related to attraction of like and synomic/semantic shadings. Developing structures for the business information repositories groups information by levels of attraction as does the tying of the organization's information to the user's metal models. The breadth of top level structures to draw the user to attract users seeking information to their desired endpoints revolves around setting terms of attraction.

Building information structures to be used by a content management system the IA would work on not only levels of attraction to information particles, but also ensuring the information is chunked and labeled with metadata for the various conduits of information transfer. Those of use who have been around information and technology for an extended period of time know that the interfaces to the information change over time.

As well, providing the ability to access and attract information using the various conduits is a challenge of logic. If users want a rough cloud of magnetized information to follow them what are the restrictions of the device and what is the most efficient way of easing the information attraction. Small usable chunks of information may need to be tracked and cataloged to facilitate this type of attraction. If we use a large magnet to attract and carry a collection of nails around with us, there is a limit to the number of nails that will have the ability to be drawn to the magnet enough to be lifted and securely transported. Mobile users face the same constraints and IAs can take on the responsibility of providing the framework for the levels of attractions that will facilitate this mobile attraction of information.

MoA for Visual Designers

The visual design of information plays a large part in the MoA. The visual design of the presentation of the information strengthens or decreases the attraction of the user to the information. Data visualization can also be used to present information that is too dense for users to grasp and the proper visualization of the information may permit the cross attraction of information and user. This falls in line with the goals of Edward Tuffte and Richard Saul Wuhrman's visual presentation of information. Information can have a mass that is too large for a user's attraction in its raw form and data visualization help the information become useable, or in the terms of MoA its mass is decreased enough for the magnet to draw the information to a user.

MoA for Technologists

The developers of information applications can use the MoA to help frame the technical solutions. A developer can better frame their solutions based on the IAs information constructs and build applications that narrow the scope of information to what users are desiring.

MoA for Clients (User Centered Design)

The MoA seems to be an easier framework to understand for building information structures that will aid their user's finding the information they desire. User-centered design and development is better understood using attraction rather than navigation. Navigation as a metaphor has been somewhat nebulous for clients to grasp and to have clients assess their own needs to better attract users to their content/services/products. The need to have organization understand that the Internet is a far reaching conduit that allows users with various frames of reference coming to their digital presence for the organization's information or product that the user can not find is a deficiency in the information application and is often attributable to the means the user has to attract that they are desiring to themselves. Organizations need to think from a users reference point to better understand how to get their information or product to the user. The user is at the center of the attraction model as they draw digital information to themselves.

Information Mass

Part of the MoA includes magnetic attraction and the concept of gravity. These terms bring into play the mass of information. A user's experience and use of terms plays apart in the type of information they would like to attract. Users with great experience in a given context could be academics or analysts and able to digest complex sets of information with little need to have the information digested. These users would have the ability to draw this dense mass of information toward themselves as they are able to digest and use this information. Users with less experience in an realm of understanding a category of information may require information visualization and more commonly understandable terms of use for that information. The academic could set their terms of use so that their attraction could include dense presentations of information. Users with more pedestrian pursuits would draw collections of information with a lesser density by use of more common terms of use. The more common pursuits would possibly also draw a great collection of information as general terms or not as clearly defined as academic terms of use.

Selection of Information Choices

The MoA can be used to describe how a user interacts with information selection options on an Internet interface. When a user is at a Web page they are often presented with a variety of options. These options can be hyper links, icons, and or search. The user often scans the page to verify that the page is leading them in the right direction.

Information Scent as Part of MoA

The metaphor of information scent comes out of research and theories developed at Xerox Parc. The framework of information scent centers on the user looking for information. The information being traced has a scent and the user will be attracted to that information by it's scent. The user will continue clicking hyper links or refining searches if there is a trace of scent or the trail of the scent gets stronger.

The scent metaphor gets muddled when trying to use it for actionable development. Information grouping does not provide distinct scents, but rather commingles scents, which can mask the scent. Scent also does extend to information agents well, but does not work to have portable information as a user can not choose to have the scent of information follow them. The metaphor gets weak in this area. Scent works best with focussed information.

The MoA allows the inclusion of the scent model as a subset, as that is based on attraction between information and the user. A more global MoA provides an extension to other forms of information attraction in slightly or greatly different contexts. The MoA provides a central metaphor that scales to many applications. This application to various contexts of use could be problematic also and must be evaluated.

Pull Quotes

"Users have a rough cloud of information following them that has a magnetic attraction toward them and their interests."

Possibilities where could break:

  • Closeness of information
  • Needs:

    Collaboration through contribution:

    The primary need for this project is collaborators. This project of the idea and simplifying it for common use as well as for extending professional discussion which leads to technical actions. The goal is to attribute all collaborators and or foundations of this effort.


    Literary research:

    Terminology research:


    Other model assessments:

    Visualization of MoA (the visualization would greatly benefit from active information representation):

    This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.

    Model of Attraction homepage

    The Model of Attraction is being presented at the ASIS IA Summit 2003 in Portland, Oregon. The first overview is available in Off the Top.

    Review the MoA Outline v.1 (December 10, 2002).

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