Before I invested too much time on a solution, I wanted to build a model of what a web site is. That way I can check my solution against the model to see if it works. As you read through the model, please understand that while I have made a bit of effort to be as complete as possible, I’m sure I missed points that are sure to be valuable. Please feel free to contribute to this discussion, because even if my proposed solution is unsatisfactory, I believe that having a model to test potential solutions against will continue to have value.
By saying Library-like, I’m imagining a web site that has as its primary characteristic a top-down organizational model strongly supported by the navigation system. If you want information, you would typically ‘drill down’ from the home page, to a relevant section of the site, to (eventually) a page containing that information. This behaviour is very much like a library (hence the term) — you start at the front door, walk to the section likely to contain the book you want, then you search the shelves, then the books.
This type of web site is designed to function, of course, like an application. It would consist of at least one page, but usually more. Its primary organizational characteristic is, I think, a left to right topology. I’m not sure if I’m using that term correctly, and I’m not implying that this type of site was built left-to-right, but what I am saying is that once the thing is done, the way it would be used is to start at the beginning and work your way through to the end.
If we ignore for the moment the single-page applications, then another of the characteristics typical of Application-like sites is that it won’t make much sense to bookmark a page in the middle of a task flow, because a bookmark can’t capture the context of the work you’re doing in that application.
A blog-like site’s main characteristic is that posts are typically sorted in reverse chronological order. Reinforcing that is, usually, a weak development of a more traditional top-down navigation system such that you’d find in the Library-like sites.
A wiki-like site’s main characteristic is a high density of links in the body content, coupled by a weak top-down navigation system more typically found in Library-like sites. A formal organization may be nonexistent, but if a wiki-like site is organized, then that organization tends to be bottom-up in nature.
Any site that is primarily a place for on-line discussion where you post to a web form and see your comments in-line with other contributions by other people is a community-like site. Posts are generally sorted in chronological order, or by a ranking system, or by a threading mechanism, and many posts typically share the same page, although there are some systems that will allow you to page through the comments if having them all on one page is unwieldily.
While I called all of these a type of site, that won’t be true of all web sites — any given web site may have a dominant type, with other types in various sections (ie: a corporate site like FedEx would be Library-like, with many Application-like areas within)
Any site designed to aggregate news covering one, or a variety of topics, superficially resembles a blog in that the most current news are posted to the main page, but also possesses characteristics of a strong top-down navigation system designed to help filter the kinds of news a consumer is interested in. Such sites may be designed to not host the news item itself, but rather simply link to the news articles on other sites.
With these classifications in mind, let’s break them down into their basic components.