A confidence factor in itself is not particularly useful unless it is available to readers, as they read. For the majority of readers (in the visual sense) this means that the information must be available passively on the page. In this way it would work in much the same way in which italics provide emphasis. A final consideration is that in order to be used across all visual media it must be representable in static form, i.e. no animations.
These requirements and a few more are summarised below for clarity:
- The ability to show reference confidence factor/weighting clearly, concisely & without bias or ambiguity.
- The ability to show weighting – e.g. relative scale from 0% to 100% confidence, visibly and with easy reference points.
- Must make information readily available – no boxouts, footnotes or other seperations from text-flow.
- Web-based extensions such as tooltips, status-bar text & sub-menus are of no use offline and so cannot form part of the basic design
- Must not interfere with the readability of text – whether for poor-sighted users, or those making use of screen-reading software.
- Any system must not interfere with existing textual standards (e.g. italics, bold, underlines, capitals).
In short – we are looking for a solution which is clear, clean, informative and ignorable.
The method which follows is somewhat guided by the capabilites of CSS – simply because our solution must be implementable. As mentioned, all typographical standards are out so as not to confuse currently existing works.
The solution, a middle ground, is to settle on a text-formatting capability of CSS which is not really a text-format: dotted underlines.
This simple entity provides a number of benefits in conveying our confidence factors throughout a text: Firstly, dotted underlines can be displayed under any text which contains a reference – they do not clash with any other element, nor affect the formatting of a document. Confidence in a particular source can be represented through the intensity of the underline – scaling from background (paper) white, through to text (ink) black, or whichever colours are in use. In fact, the use of this gradients brings the further benefit that the text & document paper itself provides the point of reference for evaluation.
If this is clear as mud, this example should enlighten. What follows is an interesting paragraph about the film Highlander (topic selected randomly from WikiPedia), provided with weighted references:
As you can see from the example, dotted underlines provide a means to present weighting information clearly without clutter. It is also possible, with practise, to make some rough judgements of a text as we read. With further work it may even be feasible for us to start to absorb this information subconsciously (in much the same way as we see emphasis). An improved “gut reaction” if you will.
We now have a workable means through which to evaluation a reference, and a standardised means through which to convey our confidence. We have a means to pass this information on through to a reader to enable them to apply the relevant weighting information to the text. However, we still lack a means to generate these factors quickly and for them to reflect anything other than a particular persons point of view.