Social navigation

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  • “Social navigation is a term coined by Dourish and Chalmers (1994) that refers to situations in which a user's navigation through an information space is guided and structured by the activities of others within that space.” (Nova and Ortelli, 2004).

Social navigation is a form of social computing or part of social computing applications.

Nova and Ortelli (2004) use the following metaphor to describe social navigation:

One the simplest example is the footprints in the desert or in the snow: when one is lost somewhere, he or she tends to find footprints in order to finds his or her way. The point is to find traces from other's activities to help you performing the task you want to (e.g. escaping from this awful desert). Humans as social beings prefer to rely on others than finding their own to solve their problem. When lost in a city, it is indeed easier and faster to ask someone directions than finding your way on a map. This is direct social navigation (there is a contact between the actors), whereas following others' footprints is indirect social navigation (the contact is anonymous).

Of course, social navigation can be used in more complex context, like for instance selecting "something" worth reading. As Dieberger (1999) pointed out, the number of cars parked in front of a restaurant, as well as the waiting line before a theatre are indicators of the places popularity.


There are several kinds of social software implementing social navigation

Site-centric applications

  • Some websites track users and let other user know
  • Good examples for centralized site-centric social navigation can be found in modern Citation indexes, social shopping applications like Amazon.

Internet navigation

  • Trailfire is a firefox extension that let's users build trails that others can follow.


  • Nova, Nicolas & Roberto Ortelli (2004). rss4you: Web-Based Syndication Enhanced with Social Navigation, 1st Workshop on Friend of a Friend, Social Networking and the Semantic Web 1-2 September 2004, Galway, Ireland HTML
  • Dieberger, A. (1999). Social connotations of space in the design for virtual communities and social navigation. In A. Munro, K. Höök and D. Benyon (Eds.), Social Navigation of Information Space, pages 35-52. London: Springer.
  • Dourish, P. and Chalmers, M. (1994). Running out of Space: Models of Information Navigation, Proceedings of the Conference Human Computer Interaction'94.