An Academic Discussion of Referencing Behavior

This summer on the USPS project, we talked a lot about internal vs external references. What it boiled down to was this. The specificity with which we defined a destination was a good cue for how far away that destination was. For instance, if we said, "see standard 708.9.24," it could be interpreted as a more remote destination than just say, "section 24, below."

We based this on how we give directions in real life. For example, when I make lunch plans, I usually only specify the name of the restaurant, not the location. That's because even though there are about a million Subway Sandwich shops in Pittsburgh, there's only one on Craig Street where I work. On the other hand, if I were to give my parents directions to that Subway from Missouri, I'd probably want to include as much information as I could.

I thought about this as I tried out Google's new mapping service. Transparent drop shadows notwithstanding, it's a pretty slick technical achievement. But the isthmus of interaction between the human and the system is everything. And Google Maps falls short in the same way that Yahoo Maps and MapQuest fall short in their frustratingly non-human interpretation of information. The first thing I tried to do with Google Maps was find my way from CMU to the Quiet Storm, a coffee house here in Pittsburgh. I brought up the location and noticed a nifty little direction link built right into the location bubble. I clicked it, which revealed a small text box for the address. I typed 5000 Forbes. Google didn't understand it... So I tried again. 5000 Forbes Avenue. Again, no luck. I had to type 5000 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA before it figured out that maybe, just maybe I wanted to find my way across town.

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