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I. THEORY – 2. Websites

Aspects of website structure

Giorgio Buccellati – January 2022

Aspects

Epistemically, i.e., in the way in which they convey knowledge, the two levels or dimensions of surface and deep structure may be seen as having three different aspects. (See further in section on epistemics.)

Perception refers to whether one looks at the data either as fragments, with each fragment being at the center of attention, or as a whole seen as something greater than its parts.

This results in two different configurations, since the target, i. e. the knowledge base or epistemic content, may be seen as the clustering together of those independent parts, or as a frame that subsumes the parts.

Finally, one may look at this same epistemic content in terms of how it is perceived or communicated, i.e., depending on whether one draws from it discrete bits of information or one is concerned with the overall system in its integrity.

This complex series of relationships may be charted as follows, with each item being developed further in the sections below:


dimensions
surface
deep
aspects perception
fragments
whole
reception information system



dimensions
surface
deep
aspects perception
fragments
whole
reception information system


Fig. 1. Two parallel epistemic aspects of surface and deep structure

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Perception: fragments and whole

Any epistemic channel (whether a book or a website) consist of discrete elements that cohere into a compositional whole. The role of perception is important in this regard.

In a book (or article or any other printed text), one immediately gains an integrated view of the two dimensions. The book is a self-contained entity, and one can leaf, physically, through its pages and zero in on individual paragraphs, sentences, words.

With a website, on the other hand, there is no perception of the whole, one cannot see “from cover to cover” the website as a pnhysical entity. Hence there ensues a dichotomy between the two dimensions, The surface structure favors the fragments, almost to the esclusion of the whole; and the deep structure becomes effectively inaccessible. There are no mechanisms that help in bringing this out, and both authors and users have in effect lost interest in the very notion of the website as a whole.

https://webdesign.tutsplus.com/articles/the-gestalt-principle-design-theory-for-web-designers–webdesign-1756

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Reception: information and system

If perception refers to the physical confrontation with a source of knowledge (a website or a book) and configuration with the way in which knowledge is organized ad displayed, communication refers to the kind of knowledge that is conveyed by an epistemic channel, such as a book or a website. In particular, we may say that a website conveys information on the one hand and, at the same time, constructs a system that encases this information and is, and of it self, an epistemic object of consideration.

A website is informational. In this sense, a website may be seen as a container i. e., as a receptacle that contains a variable number of items. In this regard, it is open ended, seemingly without an overriding sense of the whole that constitutes the content. The items may be related to each other simply on the basis of external criteria, much as the alphabetical sequence determines the assemblage of items in a dictionary. One does not expect to have readers interested in the conceptual system behind the organization of the data, but simply users who should be able to easily find what they are searching for.

A website is systemic. The information that is conveyed in a website relies on a conceptual system that underlies the organization of the information. Even the simplest of websites depends on such a system, however inarticulate it may be in the mind of the author. But the prime example in current practice is a website that presents a database organized according to a specific categorization system. In such case, the data have a coherence of their own, one that constitutes a self-contained and organic whole that is derived essentially from the categorization system that underlies the organization of the data.

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Overview of dimensions and aspects

In Fig. 1 one may see a graphic rendering of the relationship between the two dimensions.

In the surface structure dimension, information is obtained through selected fragments (in solid black) of a given cluster, which provide specific bits of information. The three aspects relate accordingly to the data: perception sees the fragments in themselves, configuration refers to their organization as discrete components of a cluster, and communication relates exclusively to information.

In the deep structure dimension, the epistemic center of attention is the whole, which is accessed as a system through a set of signposts that are tied to the frame. Again, the three aspecs relate accordingly to the data: perception sees the whole in its integrity, configuration provides a frame that encases the fragments, and communication focuses on the system that defines the entire body of data.

Generally, we refer to either dimenion in terms of one of the aspects, generally with regard to either the first aspect (fragment oriented vs. whole oriented) or the third (informational vs. systemic).

informational vs. systemic

Fig. 1. The two dimensions in their three aspects

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Elements

The elements of the system consist of the individual items that make up the knowledge base of the system. In Fig. 1 they are shown as small circles and ovals of different sizes.

For example, this paragraph may be considered an element, and so also this entire page, or, with a different format, a single entry in the bibliography (e.g., Bush 1945) as part of the full page of summaries.

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Surface structure

At the level of the surface structure, which is the one with which we are commonly acquainted, they appear to be heterogenous and may be grouped in nested sub-clusters. As shown in the graphic representation of Fig. 2, the elements are perceived as individual fragments, are configured sequentially even if there is no linking thread, and are accessed individually for information pertaining to just that particular element.

Fig.2

Fig. 2. The elements at the level of the surface structure

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Deep structure

The frame is not normally seen as an element, and to show how this should work is the goal of Chapter 3.

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Complementarity of the dimensions

The two dimensions, fragment and whole oriented, or kifrmational and systemic, are by no mens mutually exclusive and in opposition to each other, as if the informational were expected to supersede the systemic. Rather, the two are to be seen as concurrent, on the basis of a productive complementarity.

Currently, this happens to a very limited extent, essentiallhy only in scholarly websites that present a data base that is structured in a tabular fashion: here the categorization system serves as the frame that gives access to the system as a given whole. The dichotomy that I have stressed above is really the rule

It is the goal of digital discourse to correct at the root this dichotomy, and to show how the digital medium as avakilable through websites may be exploited to its full extent. In digital discousrse, the whole and fragment oriented dimensions come together structurally, through an active synergy that blends together the bimodal dimension into a new epistemological system. A full explanation is the goal of Chapter 3 in this website.

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