Oct 242006


We've been playing around with a different way of presenting navigational bread crumbs.

Many websites use breadcrumbs to show users their current location in the site hierarchy. Breadcrumbs keep users from getting lost and allow fast navigation back "up" the tree. User testing shows breadcrumbs work: Jakob Nielsen has recommended breadcrumbs since 1999.

Our firm manages paid search for leading retailers using our own proprietary technology platform. Our account management teams use an intranet as the interface to that platform. They use our intranets heavily, and so our goal is make these apps fast and friendly. We're experimenting with a different kind of intranet nav element we're calling "HistoryCrumbs".

HistoryCrumbs are a line of links atop the page giving the last 8 pages visited. Yes, more or less the same information you can get through the browser's "History" function, but presented on the page in a horizontal list. We use a short abbreviation for the link text and prepend a click counter. Here's an example. Eight clicks after logging in, the HistoryCrumbs on an intranet page might look something like this:


And after nine clicks, perhaps something like this:


Where traditional bread crumbs only allow you jump "back" up the tree, HistoryCrumbs let the user quickly navigate recent pages in any order. (Aside: the incrementing click counter looks ugly and wonkish to me. Perhaps it works for an internal app, but I'd suspect the counter is too tweaky for external users on a retail site.)

Here's a mockup of what HistoryCrumbs might look like, photoshopped onto an Amazon page. (Disclaimers: this is a mockup for illustration, not a real AMZN page, and all marks and images belong their respective owners.)

In the corresponding Amazon session, I came in to Amazon home page, searched on "Harry Potter", clicked on Book7, found it still isn't out yet, went back to the homepage, and clicked on "Alan's Amazon Store" to check out my recommendations. If now, for example, I wanted to jump back to the Potter search results, I could click the third link in the horizontal list. Fast and easy.

I'd be interested to hear if readers have seen HistoryCrumb-like nav on retail sites. And if you're doing something similar on your site, how's it working?


4 Responses to "HistoryCrumbs"
Jeff Cornejo says:
I believe that what you are describing is path breadcrumbs. While I have seen this before, and will have to find an actual reference, Eddie Bauer uses this somewhat. You can arrive at the same product page via more than one path and the breadcrumb keeps your path intact. Now, when you jump to a completely different product segment it will reset you, so not a complete history.
Matthew says:
Well, not so sure Jeff. Traditional breadcrumbs are not really breadcrumbs. If I walked about my street visiting house and dropped breadcrumbs I would expect to look back and see a personalised path I took. However, most sites breadcrumbs offer only and top down view of the page/folder structure. Eg Home > Products > Red widget. It certainly wouldn't show: Home > Red widget > Contact > About Us > Home So looking at Amazon they have the recently viewed items which is cool and useful. What Alan is exploring is non linear approach. I consider this true breadcrumbs. Anyone else picking this up there seems to be a few approaches. 1) Access browser history and present only pages from the current domain 2) Use a database and store pages of the current session id. 3) Use sessions and populate an array Any other ideas? I am keen to find the best approach that is super quick and ideal for a high traffic website. Matthew
Alan says:
We're doing #3 on our intranet -- stash the last 8 or so pages (that is, titles and URLs, not the page content itself) in the persistent session object. I'd avoid relying on the browser history -- the site knows the pages visted on the site. We also delete successive dupes, so same-page-reloads don't generate redudant crumbs.
esher says:
i really like the idea of a history breadcrumb navigation. maybe not horizontal, but vertical for better visualisation of steps ...

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