[wp-hackers] [OT] Testing needed for WordTrails plugin from Xerox

Venkatesh Rao vgururao at gmail.com
Sat Oct 3 16:36:31 UTC 2009

Hi All:

My colleague Jesse forwarded me the interesting responses from William
Canino and Otto to our request for feedback on the WordTrails plugin,
so I thought I'd join the list and the conversation.

I am the product manager for the Xerox Trails product suite, and Jesse
is the lead developer of the plugin, so I'll leave any technical
questions, such as XHTML compliance, to him. I'll just make a couple
of general points about where we are going with the product.

First, in response to William's points, the original use case behind
this idea of trail-based navigation wasn't actually tutorials/learning
applications. It was my own frustration with some of the limitations
of categories/tags and plugins like In Series (otherwise a great
plugin!). I wanted a simple way to break out of both the default
reverse-chronological ordering of blogs and the limited "table of
contents" metaphor. In particular, I wanted the ability to create
branches off the main narrative and the ability to intersect trails in
order to reuse individual posts in multiple narratives. At the same
time, I wanted a one-click ability to create instant, up-to-date PDF
ebooks. My personal overall goal was to drive traffic to my older
posts. I suspect this will be the main use case for most bloggers.

So long as you don't go nuts, our user tests show that it turns out to
be very intuitive for readers, since the metaphor is very close to
driving on Interstate highways or hiking in National Parks.
Trailblazing takes some thought and storytelling skill, but once you
get used to it, it is very quick. It takes only a few minutes of
browsing to create a rudimentary trail, and only a little bit longer
if you want to include good metadata to override the defaults.

You can see my own use of the plugin at my personal blog:
http://www.ribbonfarm.com/trails where I've used it so far to organize
my posts on the "future of work" into useful e-book like narratives.

Other use cases include slide shows and learning tutorials like
William noted, taxonomies, histories, trouble-shooting decision trees,
photo-albums, online travel guides, treasure hunts etc. Some will fit
the wiki model better (we'll be releasing a mediawiki plugin soon) and
some will require cross-site trails (which we support at

And to Otto's point about flowcharts perhaps not being the best model
for navigation, we actually agree. The flowchart-like "bird's eye
view" is only part of the user experience. Trails has both a sidebar
"worm's eye view" aspect (where we expect users to spend 90% of their
time) and a "bird's eye view" aspect, which we think of as a dynamic
re-imagining of the sitemaps of the Web 1.0 era.

Anyway, thanks for the great feedback, and looking forward to more.
Please do email Jesse or me personally if you have specific questions
(or the list if you think the question is of general interest).  The
overall technology is currently in invite-only stealth mode, and this
plugin is just the tip of the iceberg, so I hope some of you are
intrigued enough to jump in as early adopters. We'll be sharing more
details as we unveil more :)

If you are interested in following the development more closely,
please subscribe to http://blog.trailmeme.com


Xerox Trails Product Manager


It does look interesting, but I'm not sure that a flowchart is perhaps
the best way to do navigational systems. Neat idea though.

[William Canino]

Hi All,

WordTrails is basically a tool to create multiple multidirectional

reading paths within a blog.  The paths one creates are stored as XML,
which are re-read by the plugin to make a navigational sidebar widget
in HTML, or to display a flowchart in Flash.

The idea of telling a visitor, "To learn foobaring, just follow the

Foobar lesson, starting here, otherwise, move on to the next Barfoo
chapter" and "You're reading part 8 of our Foobar tutorial, you can
start at the beginning or look at the map," can potentially make this

a killer WP app, but the explicit need for a tutorial AND the explicit
need for instructions like "To read the next part, click the so-and-so
on the WordTrails box in the navigation column to the top right of
this post" make me wish I'd have made PowerPoint slides instead.

It becomes further overwhelming when there are several navigation
paths that overlap.

Don't get me wrong, Jesse, Navigational User Interfaces is a tough nut

to crack, but I think CBT tools do a better job at this than this.
I'd love to try this if ever it becomes XHTML compliant.

Best regards,

2009/10/1 Silverstein, Jesse <Jesse.Silverstein at xerox.com>:

> Hi WordPress community members:
> I am part of a team at the Xerox Innovation Group, and we've just
> released a powerful plugin called "WordTrails" in beta.  I am emailing

> this group to solicit volunteers to help us test it a bit before we
> officially change the version number from 0.9.x to 1.0.
> WordTrails allows you to very easily blaze arbitrary paths (with

> branches and loops) through a WP blog. Readers can follow these trails
> through a "bird's eye view" Flash trailmap and a "worm's eye view"
> sidebar widget. They can also linearize and convert a trail to a PDF

> with one click.
> So WordTrails basically overlays a highly flexible navigation scheme on
> a WP blog, and simultaneously turns it into a sort of one-click ebook

> publishing system.
> I'd like to invite you to check out and install the plugin
> (http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wordtrails). You can see it in

> action at http://blog.trailmeme.com (click on the 'Trails' page). You
> can also try it out for yourself before installing, on our sandbox blog

> (open registration): http://blog.trailmeme.com/sandbox
> WordTrails is part of the ecosystem of a larger technology set called

> Xerox Trails, which includes a destination site at www.trailmeme.com
> <http://www.trailmeme.com/>  that is currently in invite-only beta. For

> more background go to: http://blog.trailmeme.com/new-to-trails/
> Please let me know if you have any questions or feedback, or encounter

> any bugs. Feel free to forward this email to any serious bloggers using
> self-hosted WordPress. We've spent a year developing this plugin, and
> are really eager to see what you guys do with it!

> Jesse Silverstein
> Jesse.Silverstein at xerox.com

> On behalf of the Xerox Trails team
> Xerox Research Center, Webster
> _______________________________________________
> wp-hackers mailing list

> wp-hackers at lists.automattic.com
> http://lists.automattic.com/mailman/listinfo/wp-hackers


experiments in refactored perception
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