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Introducing the Branching Circlefinder Interaction

For the remainder of this lesson and all of Lesson 3, you will build a learning interaction. This learning interaction is a simple branching interaction, in which users are given a series of options, and choosing one takes them to a new set of options, and so on.

You can use branching applications to recreate what-if scenarios, like the ones seen in the children's book series, Choose Your Own Adventure. You can also use them to systematically eliminate possibilities, as in the case of an application that troubleshoots common computer problems. Another possibility would be a scholarship browser application that determined the applicant's eligibility based on factors like academic major, race, or gender.

The key feature of this kind of application is that each choice leads to a new stimulus, which could be more choices or a dead-end. For this reason, branching applications are easy to diagram. It's a good idea to diagram in advance to ensure that you have covered every logical possibility (in design) and that you have actually built every page (in development).

The logic of Dante's Inferno lends itself well to this sort of application. Practitioners in the field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) often cite a finding from the field of cognitive psychology that appears to apply to the vast majority of humans, with little variation: Most humans can hold seven items, plus or minus two, in short-term memory at any given time. Add any more, and something gets flushed out—either to longer-term memory or forgotten altogether.

While Dante did not have the benefit of cognitive science research in front of him, he structured the Inferno, and beyond that, all of the cosmos, into memorizable chunks: At the top are Paradise, Purgatory, and Hell; in Hell, there are Limbo, the Sins of Incontinence, and the Sins of Malice. Each of these is subdivided further into circles. The circles are themselves divided into groups, stages, bolgias, and other subcategories. It would be possible to construct a user-friendly branching application that was able to assign literally every soul to the proper place in the celestial hierarchy—seldom having to select from a list longer than six items. That would require hundreds of HTML pages and quite a few hours, so you will not build a comprehensive soul-placer application!

The figure below shows the logical structure of the application you will build. The starting point will be the Gate of Hell ("Abandon All Hope!"), and users, relying on some supplied biographies, will first choose into which of three categories of shortcoming the sinner falls. From there, users will decide to which circle the sinner should be assigned. The application could go beyond that level—circle 5, for example, has two categories, while circle 8 has ten. Again, so much detail would tax the purposes of this book. If you want extra practice after Lesson 3, you can add the next level of branching—just think of it as time spent in eLearning Purgatory!

Figure 19

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