Cultural Adaption of Hypermedia: A Contemporary State of the Art of Industrial Practice and Improvements by Multi-Trees

Cultural Adaption of Hypermedia: A Contemporary State of the Art of Industrial Practice and Improvements by Multi-Trees

Judith Dödtmann (DMCC–Dialog Marketing Competence Center, University of Kassel, Kassel, Germany) and Ralf Wagner (DMCC–Dialog Marketing Competence Center, University of Kassel, Kassel, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/ijwnbt.2012100103
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Culturally adapted hypermedia design attracts increasing scientific attention. Complementing the conventional human-computer interaction studies we investigate the current state of companies’ cultural adaptation of their websites. This study evaluates a sample of 215 websites with respect to design and navigational aspects. Subsequently, we discuss the possibilities of structuring hypermedia and enabling the adaptation to culturally bounded user expectations. Moreover, we introduce metrics for assessing navigational burdens and outline the advantages of multi-trees for structuring hypermedia.
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Hypermedia are networks comprising media objects (documents, pictures, films, flash animations, etc.), pseudo-objects (pages for guiding the user), and links to interconnect media objects and pseudo-objects (Wagner, 2008, p. 318). The majority of multimedia applications are based on hypermedia technologies such as HTML, XML, or PHP (see Lang, 2005, for a review of design issues of hypermedia systems). These technologies enable the presentation of any content, such as entries in a digital encyclopedia or product and service descriptions on a company’s website. In contrast to database queries, hypermedia are operated interactively (usually using a browser).

While the user expects to be guided through hypermedia efficiently, the increased flexibility of hyperspace frequently results in the user getting lost (Kim & Hirtle, 1995). This widespread phenomenon mainly results from the hypermedia’s inadequate navigational design (Shneiderman & Plaisant, 2005) and the user’s high cognitive load, as both conditions lead to disorientation. Creating an adequate navigational design becomes an ambitious task, as users differ markedly with respect to their knowledge of the content covered by the hypermedia, the technical facilities of their browser, and their device hardware. Further, users are not only likely to have overlapping interests, but they may well be from different cultures, as ongoing globalization increases the access by users world-wide who use hypermedia in commercial contexts, such as companies’ homepages and virtual product catalogues (e.g., Heimgärtner, 2013; Lindgaard, Dudek, & Chan, 2013). These characteristics of users increase the importance of effective navigational design.

Navigational design includes two important aspects: the structure of hypermedia and the layout of user interfaces. While usability studies have frequently addressed considerations of layout, previous research has less often dealt with issues of structure. We emphasize the aspect of structure, tackling the challenge of intercultural communication by

  • Clarifying the practical relevance of culture-related graphical interface design adaptation in comparison to the relevance of navigation-related adaptation to the user’s cultural framing,

  • Outlining the graph theoretic foundations for structuring hypermedia, and

  • Introducing multi-trees as a tool for adapting hypermedia to the diverse needs of user groups.

This paper differs from well established human-computer interaction studies (HCI) in that rather than emphasizing interface design, we stress quantitative modeling of the users’ navigational efforts. Our empirical results are derived by a deductive analysis and the analysis of 215 websites. Notably, we do not investigate the user’s preferences or behavior, but instead challenge the current state of companies’ cultural adaptation of their websites.

The remainder of this article has the following organization. Next, we outline the research design, the research hypotheses, and the results of our study. We then discuss the possibilities of structuring hypermedia with respect to distinct cultural user groups. We subsequently outline the components of users’ navigation efforts and systematize the metrics for assessing navigational burdens. Using a numerical example, we highlight the advantages of multi-trees, which allow group-specific paths and reduce the user’s exposure to complex navigation. In the final section, we provide the conclusions of the study.

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