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Using AI Techniques to Aid Hypermedia Design

Elena I. Gaura

Robert M. Newman

School of Mathematical and Information Sciences

School of Mathematical and Information Sciences

Coventry University

Coventry University

Coventry CV1 5FB, UK

+44 (0) 2476 888909

Coventry CV1 5FB, UK

+44 (0) 2476 888583



A strategy of divide and conquer, similar to that used

for structured software design, where the large system is
broken into smaller, structured presentations, which are
themselves composed together in a structured way.


Provision of visual feedback about the structure of the


Artificial intelligence techniques have found a number of

applications in hypermedia, mostly in two specific areas, user
interface, particularly adaptive ones and information search and
retrieval. There have been fewer cases of application of these
techniques to aid the authoring process. This paper studies the
applicability of some AI techniques to the authoring process, in
particular, helping designers understand and control the structure
of a presentation.

This paper considers how artificial intelligence methods,

particularly Artificial Neural Networks (ANNs) can be used to
support authoring and design of structure in hypermedia.

Categories and Subject Descriptors

For the purposes of this discussion we are interested in the
usability of hypermedia structure, abstracted away from the more
commonly considered usability issues of presentation or content.
The proposition put forward here is that structure, in terms of the
connectivity or graph of a hypermedia document can affect its
usability. The connection between structure and usability has been
noted for some time, starting with the definition of the
subsequently much used term lost in hyperspace [1].
Surprisingly, however, there appears to have been relatively little
work done so far to find out definitively how structure affects
usability. Within this field, the major work on usability of
structure was by Botafogo et al., [2] who developed metrics for
usability of structure. The metrics developed classified nodes
using their distance (in links traversed) from other nodes. The
measures used are Relative In Centrality (RIC) and Relative Out
Centrality (ROC), which is a normalised measure of the distance,
in terms of links, from other nodes. Mukherjea and Foley [3] have
developed a method to identify landmarks based also on
connectedness with other nodes. Modjeska and Marsh have
investigated the effects of hierarchical structure on hypermedia
usability, finding that generally hierarchical sites offer greater
usability whereas more weakly hierarchical sites offer faster
navigation, but find that landmarks have little effect on usability.

D.3.3 [Programming Languages]: Language Constructs and

Features abstract data types, polymorphism, control structures.
This is just an example, please use the correct category and
subject descriptors for your submission.

General Terms
Documentation, Design, Theory.

Hypermedia, Artificial Intelligence, Artificial Neural Networks.

In the design of large, closed hypermedia systems design and
control of structure is one of the major issues. It is known that
different structural attributes impart different usability
characteristics. At the same time, from the designers point of
view, it has been observed that it is a mistake to impose an
arbitrary structure too early or too late in the process. Existing
design techniques for large hypermedia systems generally address
this problem using one, or a combination of, three techniques.

Imposition of some ordered structure (usually tree-like)

from the start of the design.


This paper Considers how artificial intelligence methods,
particularly Artificial Neural Networks (ANNs) can be used to
support authoring and design of structure in hypermedia.

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SIGDOC03, October 1215, 2003, San Francisco, California, USA.
Copyright 2003 ACM 1-58113-696-X/03/0010$5.00.

Artificial neural networks (ANNs) are collections of mathematical

models that emulate some of the observed properties of biological
nervous systems and draw on the analogies of adaptive biological
learning. The key element of the ANN paradigm is the novel
structure of the information processing system. It is composed of a


browsing behaviour of users. Crestani [9] describes of ANNs may

be used to provide relevance feedback in interactive retrieval
systems such as web searches. The results are compared with
probabilistic models.

large number of highly interconnected processing elements that

are analogous to neurons and are tied together with weighted
connections that area analogous to synapses. They are often good
at solving problems that are too complex for conventional
technologies (e.g. problems that do not have an algorithmic
solution or for which one is too complex to be found) and are
often well suited to problems that people are good at solving but
conventional solutions are not. They work very well for capturing
associations or discovering regularities within a set of patterns;
where the volume, number of variables or diversity of the data is
very great; the relationships between variables is vaguely
understood; or the relationships are difficult to describe
adequately with traditional approaches. They have been found to
be of use in situations where examples of desired behaviour are
available and it is required to pick out structure from existing

What is notable is that all of these applications have been to the

access of hypermedia objects rather than their design. We propose
here that ANNs could be a useful means of helping hypermedia
designers keep control of very complex systems, without
necessarily imposing the rigid constraints of other highly
structured hypermedia authoring methods.
If neural networks can be trained to recognize good or poor
structure then this information may be fed back to the designer.
One problem with this scenario is that it is not clear yet what
constitutes good or poor structure. ANNs may be able to
provide a solution to this problem by allowing the definition to be
made by example, or otherwise to provide some additional
leverage to the process of analysis of the usability of structure.

These well known properties suggest that ANN systems should be

a good candidate for the recognition and location of desirable or
undesirable structural features in a hypermedia presentation, so
long as examples of desirable and undesirable structure were
available. Such a system would have a number of advantages.

Whereas conventional structure recognition techniques

based on graph analysis work in an absolute way, an
ANN recogniser may be expected to be able to provide
a softer analysis, recognising structural characteristics
that are close to but not precisely the same as the
required structure.


Since ANNs may be trained, by exposing them to

exemplars of the information to be recognise, such a
system would be readily adaptable to house style or
particular requirements, so long as examples were


Johnson [10] reports design experience with authoring tools for

very large structured hypertexts. The tools describe could find
structural problems such as nodes with no in-links and oversize
nodes. It was found that authors still needed a low-level view of
every object. Providing this information required presentation of a
thousand additional pages of information to the author. Maybe it
is possible to digest such information into a more easily
assimilated form.

In order to apply ANNs to the recognition of desirable or
undesirable structure a means must be devised for encoding
structure into a form suitable for their input.
Gogan and Buranga [11] describe such a means. Their method of
encoding was simply to count the links in the top, middle and
lower portion of a document. Although this provided a suitable
basis for classification using a self organising map (SOM,
described in more detail below), such an encoding method seems
to be of experimental value only, it is difficult to see how it might
be of practical use.

ANN classifiers may be able to detect desirable

structures on the basis of examples, as opposed to
rigorous, structural analysis.

There is a considerable literature linking ANNs and hypertext, in

several particular areas.

More generally, a hypermedia text is described by a graph in

which the nodes are pages and the edges are links or anchors. It is
relatively straightforward to encode this numerically, each page
simply being represented by a list of the pages linked to it. The
problem with such an encoding is that it is position dependent, a
similar structure within a text will be encoded differently
depending on where it is in the text. What is needed is an
encoding scheme that will represent a page embedded in a
particular structure in the same way wherever it is located in the

Mayer-Kress [4] notes the neural structure of the web, seeing it

as a global brain. This metaphor has inspired a line of work in
self adaptive hypermedia.
AI methods have been widely used in Intelligent Tutoring
Systems. Mullier [5] notes the inability of knowledge based AI
methods to generalise, and the resultant poor applicability to
generic adaptive systems, anth therefore uses a mix of knowledge
based systems with ANNs, which provide the requisite
adaptability. Papanikolaou et al [6] apply neuro-fuzzy (ANNs
coupled with fuzzy logic) methods towards user modelling (here
used in the sense that the system tries to build a predictive model
of the user to inform its behaviour) of knowledge goals and level
of expertise to adapt the behaviour of a system to the needs of a
user. Adaptive hypermedia, handled at the user interface rather
than authoring system is a common application. For instance Yu
[7] uses a neural network for contents sequencing.

Botafogo et. al. suggest that to some extent the place of an

individual page in the structure can be determined by the number
of links in and out of the page, or at least by metrics based upon
these. Herder [12] summarises and extends Botafogos work,
proposing a number of metrics which can be obtained from the
graph of a site and ,derived from them, different node types.
The metrics are as follows:

Bollen and Heylighen [8] note the way in which the World Wide
Web, as a whole, has developed in a very unstructured way, and
that the quality of its structure does not seem to improve. They
propose development of automatic learning algorithms to allow
hypermedia systems to adapt their own structure by learning the

Size the number of pages and links.

Complexity the amount of freedom of navigation, which is is
proposed can be expressed as the ratio between the number of
links and number of pages.


counting its inputs and outputs the type of structure that it resides
in. For example, consider the tree structure below.

Net density corrected for the fact that large sites have more
potential links per page, and is the ration between actual number
of links and the theoretical maximum.
Compactness the total distance between all pages compared to
the theoretical maximum.
Linearity the amount that the order of reading is imposed by the
author, expressed by Botafogos stratum metric.
Circumference a graphs longest cycle.

Distance the shortest path between pages.

Depth the distance of a page to the root.
Diameter - the maximal shortest path between any two pages.
Radius the minimal shortest path
Structural features of a web site are put forward.
Clusters - richly interconnected parts of the site with few links to
other topics. The cutnoades are those that if removed separate a
cluster from the rest of the web.

Figure 2: Still a tree

The node marked X will be classified as part of a list, whereas it
is more properly part of a tree. We can make this classification
correctly if we know the classification of the linked nodes. The
node X links a tree node to a tree node, so is a tree node.

The median the collection of nodes with the shortest distance to

and from other nodes.
The periphery all pages that form a dead end.

To identify the structural characteristics of a graph at a particular

node we must first identify the structural characteristics of every
node around it. Several classification passes over the entire text
will be required before the whole structure is correctly identified.

Herder classifies nodes as follows.

Home pages the initially visited node of a set. These are
essentially the cut-nodes identified above, with a high ratio of outconnectedness to in-connectedness. Botafogo proposed that the
number of links on a home page should be not too large.

There are a number of problems with this simple approach. One is

that we have identified only two types of structure here. There
may be many more types of structure identifiable by studying
input and output links and derived metrics. Botafago et. Al.
identify several, but in the end they are based on only these two
measurements and classification is not clear cut. It is desirable to
do a more complete classification based on analysis of real
hypermedia structures. Secondly, as mentioned above, real
structures are unlikely to be pure. A classification mechanism is
required that recognises, for instance, tree-ish characteristics,
even if there are deviations from a true tree structure.

Index pages point users to a large number of other pages. Unlike

home pages, the number of out links may be expected to be large.
Reference pages such as a glossary. The number of inconnections tends to be large.
Content pages deliver information and services. The inconnectedness and out-connectedness tend to be small.
If nodes can be classified into such meaningful classes, then the
hypertext graph contains a greater amount of information, and it
becomes possible to determine more about the place of the node.

Thirdly, modern hypermedia pages contain a lot of links that are

not to do with the underlying structure. Consider the page shown
in Figure 3.

As an simple example, imagine two common patterns found

hypertext structure, a tree and a linear list, shown below.

Figure 1: Tree and list structures

The nodes in the tree structure have a single in link, and multiple
out links, whereas nodes in the list structure have a single in and
out link.
Figure 3: A root web page with information

Unfortunately, in real hypermedia systems things will not be so

clear cut. Rather than pure trees and pure lists there may listy
and treey structures, and others such as arrays or cross-linked
structures. We cannot tell simply by examining a node and

This is part of a tree structure so far as the designer is concerned,

but the picture in terms of judging the function of a node by its


based on human examination and consideration but, as has been

discussed earlier, neural networks are good for capturing
associations and discovering regularities. It is therefore reasonable
to assume that they may be used to investigate whether there are
any other classification schemes for nodes which might help the
task of understanding structure.

links is not so simple. The first page shown is a home page, and
fulfils Botafogos proposals concerning how they be defined.
However, it is also a content page, because it delivers an amount
of general information. Hybrid pages such as this are common in
modern hypermedia, mainly because they maximize the
information imparted to navigation distance ratio. However, when
we look at another page from the same site the position becomes
more complex.

The type of neural network which would be most appropriate for

this is a self organizing map or SOM. This is a type of neural
network which forms a topographical map of the data where each
output neuron represents a class of inputs. After a number of
training cycles it adjusts itself to form a good fit to the data
presented. For each datum presented, the neuron with the closest
output is identified and its internal weights, and those within an
update radius are adjusted to bring their outputs closer to the
input presented. As training proceeds the modification to the
weights and the update radius is decreased. After training, the map
will classify an input datum into one of the classes represented by
the output neurons. Thus a SOM may be used to classify input
described by a number of numerical parameters into a number of
arbitrary classes. Subsequently, human intelligence needs to be
applied to discern whether the arbitrary classes represent anything
of analytical value, but researchers in a number of fields have
found this to be a productive research method which has produced
unexpected and illuminating classifications. Once a trained map
has been found which does provide meaningful output, it will
classify new data presented to it, and so forms the basis of an
automatic classifier. This could form the first stage of structural
analysis of a web, as described above, which is the second
classification task which needs to be performed.

Figure 4: In information page with links

This page is, so far as the designer is concerned a content page,
but the navigation menu on the left hand side has been repeated,
so as far as out-connections are concerned, this site is precisely
the same as the root. In fact, so far as the links are concerned,
this site is totally connected. This structure is convenient for a
small web, but for a large one, unusable.
Larger webs typically embellish individual pages with navigation
aids, typically navigation bas along the top or menus on the left
hand side (although many sites have their own conventions).
Unfortunately, such embellishments make it difficult to classify
nodes using their links, since they render all pages in a site very
similar. Before a node can be classified as described above, these
extraneous links must be recognised and removed. This process in
itself may not be simple, because although the additional links are
likely to be similar on many of the pages in the network, they are
unlikely to be identical in a large site.


Another type of ANN is a perceptron, which is an artificial
recogniser. A perceptron network will typically have an output for
each condition that needs to be recognized, and may give either a
hard binary diagnosis or a more graded one. Unlike the SOM
the perceptron needs to be trained with sample inputs and desired
outputs for each input. As the network is trained it adjusts the
internal weightings so as to produce the desired outputs for the
given outputs. Perceptrons are good at generalization, when
presented with new inputs after training, they will give
meaningful outputs for that data even if the data diverges from the
training set. It is this ability which we hope to use to release
structural analysis from the constraints which obtain from
traditional structure mapping techniques, which are good at
identifying trees, but less good at identifying tree-y structures.
To use a perceptron in this way requires a good training set,
together with a desired output for each input datum and a way of
encoding the structural information of that set into a numerical
for. It is possible that the metrics of Botafogo and Herder can
form such a means of representation, although initial studies
suggest that some additional information may be required. If
members of the training set are unambiguously part of some
recognized structure, such as a tree or linear structure, then these
values can be applied as the required outputs while training. The
generalization ability of the perceptron may be used to cope with
subsequent input which is more ambiguous in its structural

A human user can perform this analysis by use of intelligence,

inferring the likely use of links by their positioning (for instance a
top bar list of links has become, by convention a navigation aid)
or other presentational factors. In order to perform a classification
of nodes, first there must be an intelligent pre-processing task to
identify and remove the extraneous information. The remainder of
this paper discusses the ways in which a particular artificial
intelligence technique, artificial neural networks, may be used to
address the recognition of structural elements, such as those
discussed above, and also to classify nodes to enable a structural
analysis of a hypermedia system to be made.


We now look at how neural networks may be used to help in the
classification of structure, particularly the classification of nodes
to allow better analysis of structure to be performed.
There are two tasks which may be aided by neural networks. The
first is initial investigation of node classification. The
classification schemes proposed by Botofogo and Herder are

Another situation in which the generalization ability of the

perceptron might be of use is in the recognition and stripping of


links, such as navigation bars, from input data. As discussed

above, these compromise the production of metrics based on inconnections and out-connections. If trained with exemplars of
navigation bars, and other common features within a site, the
perceptron could generalize enough to recognize such features,
even if there are variations from page to page.

Network, and its Implications for Modelling., The

Information Society, Vol 11 No 1, 1994
[5] Mullier, D. J., Integrating Neural Network Technology
with Hypermedia, Proc Hypermedia, Tallinn, Estonia,
[6] K.A. Papanikolaou, G.D. Magoulas, & M.
"Computational intelligence in adaptive educational
hypermedia", Proc. International Joint Conference on
Neural Networks, Como 2000.

Neural networks have been used widely in information retrieval
and data mining, and are therefore common on the user side of
hypermedia. The authors believe that they also have great
potential for aiding the authoring side, and in a more flexible and
less absolute way than traditional design aids based on the
discrete mathematics of structure and connectivity. This paper has
represented the initial consideration of this potential which forms
the start of a range of investigations in this area. Subsequent work
will explore the use of ANNs for discovery of structure and its
classification within hypermedia and for the implementation of
authoring aides to help designers keep track and control of

[7] Yu, J-S, The Application op Neural Network Approach

to Adaptive Hypermedia.
[8] Bollen, J, Heylighen, F, Algorithms for the self
organisation of distributed multi-user networks.
Possible applications to the future World Wide Web, in
R. Trappel (ed.) Cybernetics and Systems, Austrian
Society of Cybernetics, 1996
[9] Crestani, F, Comparing Neural and Probabalistic
Relevance Feedback in an Interactive Information
Retrieval System, Proc IEEE International conference
on Neural NetworksI, Orlando, Florida, 1994

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