Menus: Presenting hierarchical or meta choices

Text Menu

Menus provide an economical way of displaying a site's main features. Where maps tend to show spatial or structural relationships, menus are usually text or text with graphics anchors arranged in a hierarchical order. (Many sites have a "site map" but this usually turns out to be a menu cataloguing most of the website's pages).

A handy way to find information

Most efferent sites now have menus --This is a web design feature as standard as the moderate decorations. Sites such as FirstGov [18] will often provide text menus on the left hand side leading to specific information and graphic menus across the top leading to more broader categories. Menus, such as Nevada Division of Environmental Protection [50]or Doonesbury [64], can expand to provide submenus (often using mouseovers and selective animation to stack menus in a small space.

Can become an interaction in itself

Writers use these simple text menus for various effects, which are intensified when these become the single anchor strategy:

Location and prime real estate

Efferent sites mainly locate menus on the top and left for a variety of considerations, including:

  • Screen real estate: Many browsers (particularly those at 800 by 600 pixels) only show the top few inches and the left side without scrolling horizontally.
  • Visual tracking: Left hand navigation is recommended by many web designers, for example [88] : "The left side of the screen can function as a "stabilizing window," a place where people look for particular points of reference that can help them locate the items that suit their needs. Comprehensive navigation works well here."
  • Convention: Many studies have determined that users follow a set routine when looking at a web page. A Usability Company study found that " a consistent pattern emerged in that people look to the middle of a page initially then towards the area usually inhabited by the logo of the site, followed by the left hand side, where they expect to find the main navigation menu. [97] "

The Hummer [23] site won an award with a site using horizontal menus that covered half of the image of the car. However, it reverted to a top-down menu system on the live site.

In aesthetic sites such as Six Sex Scenes [14], What Fits [15], Same Day Test [25], Penetration [30], Joe's Heartbeat in Budapest [49], menus are frequently on the bottom of the node--to present choices after the reader has finished the episode and encourages readers to continue. The single embedded node at the end of the text in Afterimage [7] performs a similar function.

Is everything on the menu?

Efferent sites tend to either offer menus that link to all the nodes (e.g., Nevada Division of Environmental Protection [50]) or to major sections that then offer submenus to all the nodes in that section (e.g. FirstGov [18], Earthtrends [12], Hummer [23], Saturn [60], USA TODAY [65], BBC [4], and Bankrate [3]). These efferent sites tend to provide the site map list only on key pages such as the home page. The Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children [58]has a variation on this, offering submenus on the relevant subpages only.

Some aesthetic sites, such as Afterimage's [7] and The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot's [61]have menus that offer all possible nodes at all times as well. Others, such as Disappearing Rain [32], have elaborate submenu systems that reach all nodes.

However, many aesthetic sites use limited menus to present a portion of the work. Same Day Test [25] and Joe's Heartbeat in Budapest [49] offer only limited anchors that the reader can chose from to respond to the content. Six Sex Scenes [14] and Penetration [30] use menus that present a small range of thematically connected destinations.

Look and feel

Menus come in a wide range of visual effects. Efferent sites can range from as simple as Nevada Division of Environmental Protection's [50]highlights to a complex work in itself such as Doonesbury's [64]entertaining main anchor and moving sublinks around the anchor.

Aesthetic sites also play within an enormous range: while Him [9] is grey and austere to the point of eliminating content on the anchors, High Crimson [11] provides a rich visual menu montage as the first menu flowers and other screens appear on top of that menu. Each new screen has the same menu, but the visual look and feel of the menu distinguish the portions of the feast.

Others such as The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot [61]or War Games--Catch The LandMine!! [40] use menus as a secondary strategy to provide meta and supplemental information. Menus do not have to be linear, nor have words, as the sphere menu in ~water ~water ~water [59] ably demonstrates.

Menus can also be merely long lists of anchors, as Earthtrends demonstrates. Earthtrends also explains each anchor on the side, thus expanding the menu content.