Finding the Underlying Links

within Analytical Web Applications


1Nuclear Research Center SCK-CEN Boeretang 200 B - 2400 Mol BELGIUM =97
2New Jersey Institute of Technology Computer and Information Science Department, University Heights, Newark NJ 07102 USA =97


When migrating applications to the World Wide Web, developers often do not take the opportunity to reengineer the applications for the Web environment.  Many applications thus have a paucity of links.  The Relationship-Navigation Analysis methodology helps designers better understand, as well as add a rich layer of meaningful hypermedia functionality to complex analytical applications. We illustrate with a multi-criteria decision model application, implemented in a decision analysis software toolkit. The software assists the individual decision maker in organizing, analyzing and synthesizing decision problems involving multiple conflicting decision criteria. We show how the Relationship-Navigation Analysis focuses designers of the software toolkit on understanding every component and process of the decision model by exploring the many interrelationships of the model. Adding linking  and navigational functionality, in turn, will enable users to achieve a greater understanding of and gain increased control over the application's scope, components, processes and results.

Keywords: user interface, relationship management, navigation, hypertext, hypermedia, multi- criteria decision analysis.


As the World Wide Web and its programming tools mature, we increasingly find analytical applications with content generated instead of hand-created being converted to Web interfaces. This paper concerns application design for all such systems. It also addresses the danger that developers will endow these systems with a paucity of links instead of embellishing them with the rich layer of linking and navigational opportunities which the Web could support [ Bieber and Vitali 97, Bieber 98] .

Furthermore, developers of analytical applications often struggle with the need to present complicated information in a way users can best understand it. This involves insightful visualization techniques and user interface design. This is difficult, and for some applications it simply is not enough for all users, especially students, novices and those unfamiliar with the internal details of the application domain (such as a non-technical decision maker who must make decisions based on the decision analyst's work). Even for applications with straightforward information displays, users may still have questions about what a particular item means or how it was determined. The ability to explore aspects of a piece of information in more detail could help users resolve doubts about or simply better understand both that item, as well as the analysis or display of which it is a part. Users may wish to dig deeper around data values and symbols they see, labels on graphs or user input forms, options in pop- up lists, information users enter as input (before actually submitting it), or even on the menu commands and other controls they can invoke.
In addition, users often have different mental models of an application (and its underlying domain) than an application analyst or software engineer. Even when analysts work closely with users, the end result might not be equally intuitive for all users or serve each user's individual tasks equally well. A user may wish to access a particular display, function or piece of information which he or she believes is immediately relevant to the task at hand, but which the system does not make accessible from the current screen or its immediate vicinity.

Providing links that represent application relationships that give the user access to what he or she wants is one of the main purposes of hypermedia. We take a two-stage approach to engineering applications for the World Wide Web.  First the developer performs a Relationship-Navigation Analysis, analyzing an existing or new application specifically in terms of its intra- and inter-relationships.  This leads him or her to better understand the application's complexity and richness.   Second, a dynamic hypermedia engine (DHymE),  automatically generates links for each of these relationships and metaknowledge items at run-time, as well as sophisticated navigation techniques not often found on the Web (e.g., guided tours, overviews, structural query) on top of these links.  The links and navigation, as well as annotation features, supplement the application's primary functionality[ Bieber and Isakowitz 95].

This paper concentrates on the first stage of the Web engineering process.  Its purpose is to describe the Relationship-Navigation Analysis (RNA) technique, illustrating its use in a case study of multi-criteria decision analysis software. We aim to show the advantage of adapting a hypermedia vantage point or "philosophy" within the software engineering process for the World Wide Web. We hope to convince developers of the advantages to incorporating hypermedia constructs in their applications. RNA provides a systematic approach to both.

The outline of the paper is as follows. In the following section, we introduce multi-criteria decision analysis as an example of a complex analytical technique, and briefly describe the basic components of the model implemented in the decision analysis software toolkit. In Section 3, we introduce the Relationship-Navigation Analysis (RNA) methodology, and apply RNA to the software's decision model. We illustrate extensively how this methodology has helped us in the discovery of additional functionality, allowing us to suggest several important modifications to the existing decision analysis software tool. We briefly discusses implementation approaches, and we conclude with a short description of our future research challenges in Section 4.


This section introduces the paper's application domain: multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA). Later in the paper we apply the RNA technique to find relationships in MCDA software to map to links when implementing it on the Web.  (Again, this paper focuses on the problem of finding these relationships as opposed to actually implementing them as links.)

Multi-criteria decision analysis software provides a variety of decision information management and analysis tools. Although the basic components of a multi-criteria decision analysis model are rather straightforward, their many possible interrelationships require a variety of analysis approaches. This often leads the decision maker to explore the decision problem through complex analysis paths, turning the decision analysis into a complex and painstaking endeavor despite the underlying simple model. As a consequence, it is a major concern of decision analysis software developers to design the user interface in a way that conveys these intrinsic analysis complexities in a clear manner. This research provides developers of complex analytical applications with a systematic approach for supplementing the user interface with a rich layer of additional functionality. This functionality is based on the application's internal relationship structure.

Screenshot PDE v. 1.1

Figure 1. Multi-criteria decision analysis software product : the ranking analysis screen.  Underlined items are relationships found through the Relationship-Navigation Analysis technique. (PDE 1.1. Copyright 1997 V. Van der Sluys, All rights reserved).

Figure 1 shows a screen shot of a decision analysis software research product built upon a well-known multi-criteria decision model. The screen provides a number of visual cues to the decision maker, leading to a particular type of decision analysis. This screen exemplifies some of the complexities involved: the decision alternatives can here be analyzed in a number of different ways, where each analysis highlights a different aspect of the model and requires a different representation. This approach rather strongly restricts the decision maker in his exploratory actions because of two reasons. First, the interaction with the decision model is constrained to a rather small number of predefined analysis processes. Second, the components of these processes are not linked: there is no immediate way of switching from one component (e.g., a particular decision alternative) in one analysis to the same component in a different or subsequent analysis. These limitations are common in most decision analysis software packages.

To overcome these and other limitations, as well as to help users cope with the inherent analysis complexities, we decided to make widespread use of hypermedia navigation [Bieber et al. 97, Nielsen 95] for directly accessing the components, processes and results of the decision model. The hypermedia links represent the internal structure of the application's relationships and metaknowledge. This will give users an increased understanding of the decision model, and an increased feeling of control over the many subtleties involved. We chose the Relationship-Navigation Analysis methodology to determine the appropriate links and navigational features for our domain.

Within the realm of multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA), numerous techniques, tools and methodologies have been developed to aid decision makers in the following decision problem: rank order a number of decision alternatives (or actions), while taking into account multiple -- usually conflicting -- criteria (or attributes) on which these alternatives are evaluated [Zeleny 82]. Potential decision areas include, for example, locating a new facility, evaluating several potential investments, or even choosing a new car.

The multi-criteria model used in the PDE software product consists of a simple hierarchical weighing model. It is assumed that the decision maker is dealing with a (finite) set of decision alternatives, given by A =3D {A1, A2,... An}, which are evaluated by a (finite) set of criteria C=3D {C1,C2,...,Cm}. The multi-criteria model requires the decision maker to evaluate (by means of a numerical score) each alternative on each of the criteria, to structure the criteria hierarchically in a decision tree, and to weigh the criteria in a well-defined manner. Two new sets result from these procedures: the set of scores S =3D {S11, S12, ..., Snm}, with Sij the score of alternative Ai on Criterion Cj, and the set of weights W =3D {w1,...,wm}, with wj the weight of criteria Cj. The overall or global score S(Ai) of a decision alternative Ai then is defined as the weighted sum of the scores of Ai on all criteria:

S(Ai) =3D Sj wj Sij.

The decision problem, i.e., to establish a global ranking of the decision alternatives reflecting the decision maker's preferences vis-a-vis the various criteria, can now be explored in a number of different ways. The decision maker, for instance, may want to perform a sensitivity analysis, in order to investigate the sensitivity of the global ranking with respect to the scores of a particular alternative on a particular criterion, or with respect to the particular weight of this criterion. She may also want to view the contribution of one specific criterion to the global ranking of the alternatives, or follow the behavior of one particular alternative throughout the entire decision process. She may also want to know the profile of an alternative, in order to verify for which criterion the alternative performs extremely well or surprisingly bad. Relevant information may also be retrieved from analyzing a subtree of the hierarchy, leading to a partial ranking of the alternatives.

As is the case in most existing commercial multi-criteria software products however, PDE does not allow for a flexible analysis. Instead, the user is presented with a number of distinct, ready-made processes. However useful these processes indeed are for the analysis, the user is still hampered by the lack of a coherent representation of the many alternative routes to initiate and pursue an exploration of the information at hand.

Like most MCDA software, PDE was designed without a deep analysis of its internal relationship structure, and with only minimal consideration of linking. Exposure to the RNA methodology almost immediately led to an explosion of additional features as it became very clear that hypermedia could alleviate several of the limitations inherent in such complex analysis domains. A further side benefit was that the process of doing an RNA helped us as designers actually understand our application more deeply. Designers in other domains (mathematical model management, education, CASE tools) have informally told us of similar experiences.

In the following section, we use the RNA methodology to explore how and which additional functionality to provide the user for navigating through the multi-criteria decision analysis in order to gain a deeper understanding of the decision problem, and ultimately, a feeling of greater control over the final decision.


We define hypertext as the science of relationships and relationship management [Isakowitz 93, Bieber and Isakowitz 96, Isakowitz et al. 95]. RNA provides a systematic approach for developers to employ relationship management in their design process.

Relationship-Navigation Analysis (RNA) has 5 steps:

  1. stakeholder analysis
  2. element analysis
  3. relationship and metaknowledge analysis
  4. navigation analysis
  5. relationship and metaknowledge implementation analysis.
RNA has two major purposes. On its own, a relationship analysis will help the designer form a deeper comprehension of the application. This occurs primarily in steps 1-3. Step 4's navigation analysis is based on the stakeholder and relationships determined. In step 5, the designer then must decide which of these relationships actually to implement. Some may provide only marginal benefit. Others may be too costly or difficult to implement. Once completed, developers then use these results in their actual system design, whether using a hypermedia design methodology or a more traditional design methodology.

In this section we illustrate a relationship-navigation analysis for the PDE MCDA system.  While we describe the first four steps of the RNA, we concentrate primarily on step 3: the relationship and metaknowledge analysis.

Step 1. Stakeholder Analysis

The purpose of the stakeholder analysis is to identify the application's audiences. Knowing who will be interested in an application helps the analyst broadly determine the entire range of important elements and relationships in steps 2 and 3, and then to focus on these specifically. The users of the decision analysis software product can be categorized by means of three, usually at least partially overlapping, user profiles or user roles.

First, we distinguish the user role of decision builder or decision information provider. He or she often is a domain expert, giving expert advice to a decision maker. This user is interested in organising his thoughts on the decision problem in a formal model, and in having a first look at the decision analysis, without feeling the need of going into too much detail during this analysis phase. His activities are largely restrained to organising the relevant information for the decision problem in a structured way, according to the decision model provided. In a group decision setting [Van de Walle et al. 97], we may view this user as a decision team member, who contributes important information to the decision, but does not have the authority or the interest to further analyze the group's decision.

Second, we distinguish the user role of decision analyst. This user is interested in the technicalities of the decision problem, and in performing the necessary operations to disclose the -- usually non-obvious -- underlying problems. In a group decision setting, we may view this user as an analyst providing the rationale of a group's decision to a decision maker, based upon the information provided by the individual decision builders.

Finally, we can distinguish the user role of decision maker. He or she is the task leader or manager interested in merely browsing through the details of the decision problem, but mostly interested in a concise executive summary of the analysis provided by the decision analyst, based upon the information of the decision builder.

The multi-criteria decision analysis software is adapted towards these three user profiles by providing tailored procedures within three corresponding categories, or phases, of the decision process: the organisation phase (which would be most appropriate for the decision builder), the analysis phase (for the decision analyst), and the synthesis phase (for the decision maker concluding the decision problem).

For a larger scale decision analysis package, stakeholders include not only the analysts who would use the application and managers who have to act on the analyses, but also new employees who have to learn about a domain, those who fund the department using the analysis package (to understand why certain strategies were followed and others rejected), and the organization's legal department which may have to defend the department's decisions in lawsuits several years after decisions were implemented [Kimbrough et al. 90; Bieber 92].

Step 2. Element Analysis

The Element Analysis leads to a list of all the elements of interest in the application. At one level these include all types of items displayed in any on-line display (information screens, forms, documents, and any other type of display), as well as the screens, forms and documents themselves. The easiest way to start is to examine each screen (or mock-up) and identify each value and label it contains. Both may become anchors for the Relationship Analysis in step 3. It is perhaps most convenient to list the most important elements of interest within each of the three phases mentioned in the first step.
  A more complete analysis also could include all subsystems within the application; all processes users frequently conduct within the application; all internal processes within the application; and all operations invokable.

Step 3. Relationship Analysis

Relationship analysis concerns inter-relationships, intra-relationships and metaknowledge. We consider each element of interest identified in the prior step in terms of each of the following general kinds of relationships, for each group of stakeholders. Certain relationships will be useful to only certain stakeholders. Relationships can lead to information inside and outside the application. At this phase, we should not feel constrained by real-world considerations of availability or implementation cost and effort. In this step we exercise our creativity as decision analysts as fully as possible. Only in step 5 do we consider how to implement the relationships and metaknowledge found.

RNA uses the following general relationships: schema, process, operation, structural, descriptive, attribute, occurrence, similarity, statistical, collaborative, ordering, and contingent.

Analysts should employ this set of relationship types as a kind of brainstorming tool help them consider different aspects of their domain. As such the categories overlap to some degree, allowing different analysts to find the same relationships through different prompts. Analysts are free to add new categories to this core set that better fit their own mental models of their domain. [Bieber 97, Bieber and Vitali 97] give additional cursory examples of relationship analyses.

Note that these are general kinds (classes or categories) of relationships one finds in different computational applications. Various hypermedia researchers have come up with different link taxonomies [Trigg and Weiser 86, Wang and Rada 95, Oinas-Kukkonen 96] which contain specific link types for particular applications or domains. These could fall across several of our general link categories. Note too that we have compiled the above set of general link categories based on personal experience in developing and using applications. It is not complete. Neither have we tried to normalize it; a particular semantic link type might fall in more than one category, which is useful in brainstorming where different keywords may trigger the same relationship with different people. In any event, we have found the current set very useful in thinking about providing relationship management support to analytical computer applications.

A. Schema or Design-based Relationships

Schema relationships represent (and when implemented provide direct access to) the kind of domain-specific relationships one finds in a schema or application design. In a database application, this includes relationships captured in the entity-relationship diagram. Within our framework of decision analysis, one may associate models different from the multi-criteria model (such as a voting model) that operate within the same domain. One also may infer associations among models that share global variables or other components. In a group setting, an occurrence relationship (type G below) may be used to view all "good" or "bad" evaluations on a given alternative by the domain experts. At a lower level, the various analysis approaches may be viewed as schema relationships.

B. Process or Task Relationships

Process relationships represent tasks which the stakeholders perform. Process relationships give access to the next step in a work flow or procedure, subtask in a project management system, or document in a series. Process relationships especially lend themselves to hypertext navigation features such as graphical overviews and trails (described below).

One could consider the relationship linking each of the above three fundamental phases as a high-level or process relationship:

Organize - Analyze - Synthesize.

Obviously, a particular user may not be interested in exploring in full detail each of the phases, though a group as a whole must perform all three. Within each of the phases, we can distinguish the following local process relationships.

C. Operation or Command Relationships

Operation relationships include executable commands (e.g., menu commands), logically connecting an object to the result of operating upon it. In the multi-criteria model, we can distinguish, for instance, the following operational relationships at various phases of the decision process:
Element of Interest
Operation relationship
Alternative Add
Criterion Add
Criteria Tree Structure

D. Structural (Application Internal Structure) Relationships

Structural relationships connect related objects based on the application's domain independent internal structure common to all instances of the application system. In our decision analysis framework, these relationships include links among the decision model's equations, its variables, and individual data values instantiating the variables. The central structural relationship in the multi-criteria model is the relationship that establishes the overall score of an alternative, as given in Section 2, based upon the alternative's score on each of the criteria. From this basic structural relationship, relationships for the sensitivity analysis and the contribution analysis of the criteria are derived.

E. Descriptive Relationships

Descriptive relationships connect an item of interest to definitions, longer descriptions, the item's purpose and other descriptive information. Such relationships are used to describe an alternative, or to describe the elicitation procedure for determining the trade-offs of the various criteria.

F. Attribute and Parameter Relationships

Attribute relationships connect an item of interest to its attributes, internal parameters and other background information. In a decision analysis model, a data value's system parameters include its size, data type and security classification. Its domain parameters include its attributes. Background information includes its source, owner and purpose.

G. Occurrence or View Relationships

Occurrence relationships connect all views and other manifestations of a given item. In a CASE tool, for example, these would connect each occurrence of an item in the requirements document, design documents, program code, documentation and system output.
Element of Interest
Occurrence Relationship
Alternative Definition
Any analysis
Criterion Definition
Tree Weights
Tree Ranking
Any analysis

Occurrence relationships could include all decisions that use the same specific criterion, all criteria that have the same normalized weight value; all executive summary reports that discuss the same family of criteria; and all equations in the analysis phase analyses that use the same variables.

H. Similarity Relationships

Similarity (as do statistical and dependency) relationships can provide users access to information within a "decision analysis database". Analysts could examine, for example, all analyses that used a decision tree similar to the current tree, e.g. containing the same criteria or having the same hierarchical structure .

I. Statistical or Dependency Relationships

Statistical or dependency relationships give access to any items that statistically occur under similar conditions or appear to depend upon others (perhaps determined through a cluster or knowledge discovery analysis). These relationships, for example, may show users all alternatives that usually go together with the current alternative. Dependency relationships may, in turn, provide the user with relevant information from a decision analysis repository, and lead to relationships which answer questions such as: "if this criterion is weighted heavily, what is then usually neglected?"

J. Collaborative Relationships

Collaborative relationships structure collaboration among people. For example, in a brainstorming system, participants may have to enter a comment before they can see others' comments, or each might work on a task that later should be merged. In a group decision analysis system, these may show how different group members weight a particular decision factor or event. Although the decision analysis software product we discuss here is intended for use by a single decision maker, we easily can think of a variety of useful collaboration relationships. For instance, it would be really insightful to the decision analyst in a group of decision makers to view which decision makers usually are in agreement with which others, or which decision makers are outliers in the group. This is a topic for future collaborative hypermedia and MCDA research. [Van de Walle et al. 98] discusses this in more detail.

K. Ordering Relationships

Ordering relationships put items in some kind of sequence. The most straightforward ordering can be found by asking the question: "if I had a previous and a next button for this element of interest, where would each lead?" Determining this may depend on user preferences or on temporal information (e.g., ordering by precedence). The simplest ordering would be to connect all the alternatives or criteria, etc. in some ranked order. Alternately, ordering relationships could connect all the information for an alternative or criterion, etc. (Both types of ordering could be implemented as individual links, or as guided tours or within system overviews.) As an example, we could conceive the following ordering relationships for the following elements of interest.
Element of Interest
Alternative Definition  Score
Criterion Definition List of criteria
Tree List of criteria Weights of criteria
Weight Criterion Trade-off information
Score Alternative Ranking


L. Contingent or Ad Hoc Relationships

This is not so much a brainstorming category as a recommendation to implement free Contingent or ad hoc relationships represent all relationships declared by the user in addition to those above. While all the aforementioned relationships could be generated automatically based on the application or system structure [Bieber 95, 97], ad hoc links allow the user to declare anything not inferable or automatable. They thus are contingent on synthesizing abilities and knowledge the user has but the computer does not. Contingent relationships range from comments on single items to user-declared links among items. Both information authors (e.g., decision builders and decision analysts) and, security permitting, information readers (e.g., decision makers and other group members) may be able to annotate items within the application.

Step 4. Navigation Analysis

Once we identify the relationships, we can think of how the user might access them. The most straightforward implementation would make each relationship a link, and then provide simple traversal (users selecting an anchor and link, and the system displaying the link destination). But certain relationship types lend themselves to more sophisticated navigation. The concept of hypermedia includes many other navigation features based on relationships or links. These include guided tours and trails, overviews and structural query. In this step of RNA, the designer should decide which additional navigation features could benefit various stakeholders and their tasks.

Within the decision analysis software product, the following navigation features would be extremely powerful.


Overviews [Landow 90, Utting and Yankelovich 89, Thüring et al. 95, Durand and Kahn 98] allow users to see the relationships among a group of nodes (elements of interest, screens or documents). Overviews often are presented graphically, with each node as a square and links as lines connecting them. Clicking on a node usually displays that node in a separate window.

Each of the schema, process, ordering or occurrence relationships could be linked by overview navigation. We could imagine, for instance, that an overview could be generated for each of the alternatives, so that the decision maker can follow an alternative throughout the organisation and synthesis phases. In this way, the decision maker can view the alternative's score on each of the criteria, its worst and best evaluation, its relative position, etc. In the different setting of group decision analysis, we can think of an overview available to a group of decision analysts in which every member can view the criteria tree of every other member.

Guided Tours:

Guided tours [Marshall and Irish 89, Garzotto et al. 96, Furuta et al. 97, Shipman et al. 98] and trails [Trigg and Weiser 86] are "recommended paths" through an application. They are appropriate for displaying schema, process, ordering and occurrence relationships, when the system can specify an order of the individual items within each relationship and the user would want to visit one at a time.

A guided tour may be extremely useful for the decision maker, assisting him in the selection of the most relevant screens to look at. The composition of the executive report in the decision synthesis phase may be viewed as a guided tour. For a novice in the area of the decision problem, a guided tour may assist in guiding this user through the real issues of the problem. A general public report, or a report for a commission or external advisory group may also be implemented as a guided tour.

Structural Query:

Structural query [Halasz 88, McCall et al. 90, Lee et al. 96, Kaindl et al. 98 Bieber and Vitali 97] allows the user to query an application based on its structure instead of its content. A structural query assists the user in the investigation of the structure of the application, i.e., its relationships and attributes, and not on its content.

In the decision analysis software, we could have structural queries for asking questions such as: "show all analyses having more than two criteria related to the issue of project costs", or "show all analyses involving more than two decision makers", or even "show all alternatives which have appeared in the department's different decisions taken since 1996", etc.

[Bieber and Kacmar 95; Bieber et al. 97; Maurer 96; Nielsen 90, Nielsen 95] discuss these and several other navigation features in more detail.

Step 5. (Relationship and Navigation) Implementation Analysis

Clearly step 3 can generate a lot of relationships. In this step, the designer must decide which actually to implement. This step is not the actual implementation, simply the logical decision of which relationships to implement. Designers should consider the costs, benefits and information value (actual and marginal) of both implementing and displaying each. We separate this step from step 3 so the designer can exercise all of his or her creative talents there without constraint by real world considerations.

While this paper's scope does not include implementation, implementation clearly is on our agenda for the near future. In general, developers can take two approaches. One can add hypermedia functionality to a nonhypermedia-based application or one can implement the application in a hypermedia environment. There are several approaches to integrating hypermedia functionality into primarily non-hypermedia information systems. These include incorporating stand-alone hypermedia features using developer toolkits, extending applications to work cooperatively with link services or open hypermedia systems, or executing the applications in conjunction with independent hypermedia engines. [Bieber 97] describes these approaches in more detail, as well as describing our own independently executing hypermedia engine, which automatically generates links for the relationships determined using the RNA analysis [Bieber 95, 97]. Regarding hypermedia application environments, many commercial and research hypermedia systems exist.


Hypermedia design methodologies present one of the most important developments in the hypermedia and Web Information Systems fields [Christodoulou et al. 98, Fraïssé et al. 95; Bieber and Isakowitz 95, Bieber and Isakowitz 96, Isakowitz et al. 98]. Hypermedia design involves more than applying well-understood system analysis and design or software engineering techniques to hypermedia. Hypermedia functionality requires new kinds of relationship management and navigation support. Hypermedia design methods provide a systematic approach to relationship management and navigation support, which in turn, should enable consistent, large-scale, robust hypermedia implementations. Analyzing an application specifically in terms of its intra- and inter-relationships can lead application analysts to better understand its complexity and richness, as well as better provide the kind of access and metaknowledge users desire. RNA does not compete with any of the existing hypermedia design techniques or methodologies. RNA assists primarily in the requirements gathering phase which one would conduct before using the other methodologies such as EORM [Lange 96], OOHDM [Schwabe et al. 96] and RMM [Isakowitz et al. 95]. RNA helps the analyst understand the application domain well enough to conduct a full design using the other methodologies. Similarly, analysts could use RNA in conjunction with the standard non-hypertext systems analysis and design techniques.

For the authors personally, using the RNA methodology has greatly increased the understanding of the multi-criteria decision analysis model and its many possible approaches to analyzing the model's resulting ranking. By carefully listing the various types of relationships, we have been able to suggest new ways to visualize relevant decision information and both provide new access to and navigation through this information.

Future work in this application domain will continue in the challenging situation of group decision making. Indeed, one can easily think of the additional complexities and the corresponding additional relationships involved when a group of people is contributing and analyzing the model. Our future work will focus on how to use the RNA methodology to explore hypermedia functionality in this new setting.

While quite useful in its current form, we intend to develop the RNA technique further by producing specific guidelines for each step and by reducing the range of options that the analyst must consider within steps 2-4 of the analysis. These refinements should make the analysis more systematic and easier to conduct, while allowing it to remain necessarily open-ended. We also plan to investigate a more complete and theoretically robust taxonomy of link categories. Although we have found other general taxonomies [DeRose 89, Parunak 91, Rao and Turoff 91] insufficient for our domain of generic analytical application support, we might incorporate and use them as a starting point. Furthermore, we intend to develop an exact procedure for coordinating RNA with other systems analysis and design methodologies.

When developers convert legacy systems to the World Wide Web, few take the time to reengineer the applications to take full advantage of the Web's hypermedia linking facilities. RNA provides a way to determine the opportunities for linking in applications. In addition, as we have seen in this paper, hypermedia links provide an alternative approach to making complex applications understandable and effective. This line of research aims to convince software developers both off and on the Web to take deep advantage of hypermedia in at least part of their application development process, as well as their application's feature set. We hope to inspire analysts and designers in many more application areas to design access and support around an application's relationship structure.


We are very much grateful to Veerle Van der Sluys for letting us use the Personal Decision Explorer (version 1.1) research software tool. We also are indebted to Mohan Pattabiraman, Qiang Lu, Sonal Panchal, Praveen Ramanathan, and Ling Wang at the New Jersey Institute of Technology who have applied various versions of the Relationship-Navigation Analysis to real applications, as well as application developers and owners at NJIT, including Athanassios Bladikas, Haresh Gopal, Carmen Marici, Lou Pignataro, Lazar Spasovic, Chi Tang and Dave Ullman. We gratefully acknowledge funding for this research by the NASA JOVE faculty fellowship program, by the New Jersey Center for Multimedia Research, by the National Center for Transportation and Industrial Productivity at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), by the New Jersey Department of Transportation, by the New Jersey Commission of Science and Technology, as well as grants from the Sloane Foundation and the AT&T Foundation, and the NJIT SBR program. Finally, we wish to thank the Belgian nuclear research center SCK-CEN and the Fund for Scientific Research FWO-Flanders (Belgium) for supporting the sabbatical leave of the first author at NJIT.


[Belton 85] V. Belton, "The use of a simple multi-criteria model to assist in the selection from a shortlist", Journal of the Operational Research Society 36, No. 4 (1985), 265-274.

[Bieber 95] Bieber, M. "On integrating hypermedia into decision support and other information systems", Decision Support Systems 14 1995, 251-267.

[Bieber 98] Bieber, M. "Hypertext and Web Engineering," Proceedings of the Ninth ACM Conference on Hypertext and Hypermedia, ACM Press,
277-278, 1998.

[Bieber and Kacmar 95] Bieber, M. and Kacmar, C., "Designing hypertext support for computational applications", Communications of the ACM 38(8), 1995, 99-107.

[Bieber and Vitali 97] Bieber, M. and Vitali, F., "Toward support for hypermedia on the World Wide Web",IEEE Computer 30(1), 1997, 62-70.

[Bieber et al. 97] Bieber, M., F. Vitali, H. Ashman, V. Balasubramanian and H. Oinas- Kukkonen, "Fourth Generation Hypermedia: Some Missing Links for the World Wide Web", International Journal of Human Computer Studies 47, 1997, 31-65.

[Brans and Vincke 85] J.P. Brans and Ph. Vincke, "A preference ranking organization method, the PROMETHEE method", Management Science 31, No. 6 (1985), 647-656.

[Christodoulou et al. 98] Christodoulou, S. P., Styliaras, G. D., and T. S. Papatheodorou, "Evaluation of Hypermedia Application Development and Management Systems," Proceedings of the Ninth ACM Conference on Hypertext and Hypermedia, ACM Press, 1-10, 1998.

[De Baets and Van de Walle 94] B. De Baets and B. Van de Walle, "Dependencies among alternatives and criteria", Proceedings of CIFT'94, Fourth International Workshop on Current Issues in Fuzzy Technologies (1994), 80-85.

[DeRose 89] DeRose, S. Expanding the notion of links. Hypertext '89 Proceedings, Pittsburgh, PA, November 1989, 249-257.

[Durand and Kahn 98] Durand, D. and Kahn, P., "MAPA: A System for Inducing and Visualizing Hierarchy in Websites," Proceedings of the Ninth ACM Conference on Hypertext and Hypermedia, ACM Press, 66-76, 1998.

[Dyer et al. 92] J.S. Dyer, P.C. Fishburn, R.E. Steuer, J. Wallenius and S. Zionts, "Multiple criteria decision making, multiattribute utility theory: the next ten years", Management Science 38, No. 5 (1992), 645-654.

[Fraïssé et al. 95] Fraïssé, S., Garzotto, F., Isakowitz, T., Nanard, J. and Nanard, M. (eds.), International Workshop on Hypermedia Design U95 Proceedings, Montpellier (June 1-2, 1995).

[Furuta et al. 97] Furuta, R., Shipman, F. Iii, Marshall, C., Brenner, D. and Hsieh, H., "Hypertext Paths and the World-Wide Web: Experiences with Walden's Paths", Hypertext'97 Proceedings (Southampton, April 1997), 167-176.

[Garzotto et al. 96] Garzotto, F., Mainetti, L. and Paolini, P., "Navigation patterns in hypermedia data bases", Journal of Organizational Computing and Electronic Commerce 6(3), 1996, 211-237.

[Halasz 88] Halasz, F., "Reflections on NoteCards: seven issues for the next generation of hypermedia systems", Communications of the ACM 31(7), 1988, 836-855.

[Isakowitz 93] Isakowitz, T., "Hypermedia in Information Systems and Organizations: A Research Agenda," Proceedings of Twenty-Sixth Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Science (HICSS) (Maui, Jan. 1993), Volume III, 361-369.

[Isakowitz et al. 95] Isakowitz, T., Stohr, E. and Balasubramanian, P., "RMM: A methodology for structuring hypermedia design", Communications of the ACM 38(8), August 1995, 34-44.

[Isakowitz et al. 98] Isakowitz, T., Bieber, M. and Vitali, F. (eds.), "Web Information Systems", Communications of the ACM 41(7), 1998.

[Kaindl et al. 98] Kaindl, H., Kramer, S. and Afonso, L. M., "Combining Structure Search and Content Search for the World-Wide Web," Proceedings of the Ninth ACM Conference on Hypertext and Hypermedia, ACM Press, 217-224, 1998.

[Landow 90] Landow, G., "Popular fallacies about hypertext", in Jonassen, D. and Mandl, H. (eds.) Designing hypermedia for learning, Series F. Computer and Systems Sciences 67, Springer- Verlag, 1990, 39-59.

[Lange 96] Lange, D., "Object-Oriented Hypermodeling of Hypertext Supported Information Systems", Journal of Organizational Computing and Electronic Commerce 6, No. 3, 1996, 269-293.

[Lee et al. 96] Lee, Y. K., Yoo, S-J., Yoon, K. and Berra, P., "Querying structured hyperdocuments", Proceedings of the Twenty-Ninth Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (Wailea, Maui; January 1996), IEEE Press, Washington, D.C., Volume II, pages 155-164.

[Maurer 96] Maurer, H., HyperWave: The Next Generation Web Solution, Addison Wesley, London, 1996.

[Marshall and Irish 89] Marshall, C. and Irish, P., "Guided tours and on-line presentations: how authors make existing hypertext intelligible for readers", Hypertext '89 Proceedings (Pittsburgh, Nov. 1989) 15-42.

[McCall et al. 90] McCall, R., Bennett, P., D'Oronzio, P., Ostwald, J., Shipman, F. Jr. and Wallace, N., "PHIDIAS: Integrating CAD Graphics into Dynamic Hypertext", In: Rizk, A., Streitz, N. and André, J., eds., Hypertext: Concepts, Systems and Applications, Proceedings of ECHT'90, Versailles, November 1990. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 152-165.

[Nielsen 90] Nielsen, J., "The art of navigating through hypertext", Communications of the ACM 33(3), March 1990, 296-310.

[Nielsen 95] Nielsen, J.,Multimedia and Hypertext: The Internet and Beyond, AP Professional, 1995.

[Oinas-Kukkonen 96] Oinas-Kukkonen, H., Debate Browser - An Argumentation Tool for MetaEdit+ Environment," Proceedings of the
Seventh European Workshop on Next Generation of CASE Tools (NGCT Ô96), Crete, Greece, 1996, 77-86.

[Parunak 91] Parunak, H. "Ordering the information graph" in Hypertext/hypermedia handbook, Berk, Emily and Joseph Devlin (eds.), Intertext Publications/McGraw-Hill Publishing Co., Inc., New York, 1991, 299-325.

[Rao and Turoff 90] Rao, U. and Turoff, M., Hypertext functionality: a theoretical framework. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction 2(4), 1990, 333-358.

[Roy 90] B. Roy, "The outranking approach and the foundations of ELECTRE methods", in Readings in Multiple Criteria Decision Making, C. Bana e Costa (ed.), Springer-Verlag (1990), 155-183.

[Saaty 80] T. Saaty, "The analytical hierarchy process", McGraw-Hill, New York.

[Schwabe et al. 96] Schwabe, D., Rossi, G. and Barbosa. S., "Systematic hypermedia application design with OOHDM" Hypertext'96 Proceedings, March 16-20, 1996, 116-128.

[Shipman et al. 98] Shipman, F. M. III, Furuta, R., Brenner, D., Chung, C. and Hsieh, H., "Using paths in the Classroom: Experiences and Adaptations," Proceedings of the Ninth ACM Conference on Hypertext and Hypermedia, ACM Press, 267-276, 1998.

[Thüring et al. 95] Thüring, M., Hannemann, J. and Haake, J., "Hypermedia and cognition: designing for comprehension", Communications of the ACM 38(8), 1995, 57-69.

[Trigg and Weiser 86] Trigg, R. and Weiser, M., "TextNet: A network-based approach to text handling", ACM Transactions on Office Information Systems 4, No. 1 (1986) 1-23.

[Utting and Yankelovich 89] Utting, K. and Yankelovich, N., "Context and orientation in hypermedia networks", ACM Transactions on Information Systems 7, No. 1 (1989) 58-84.

[Van de Walle et al. 95] B. Van de Walle, B. De Baets and E. Kerre, "Fuzzy multi-criteria analysis of cutting techniques in a nuclear reactor dismantling project", Fuzzy Sets and Systems 74 (1995), 115-126.

[Van de Walle et al. 97] B. Van de Walle, M. Turoff, M. Bieber and A. Rana, "Integrating soft computing in group decision support systems: a taste of the challenges and opportunites", AAAI 1997 Fall Symposium on Frontiers in Soft Computing and Decision Systems, Boston, Mass.

[Van de Walle et al. 98] B. Van de Walle, M. Bieber and M. Turoff, "Collaborative relationship navigation analysis for group multi-criteria decision making", Technical Report, CIS Department, New Jersey Institute of Technology, 1998.

[Wang and Rada 95] Wang, W. and Rada, R., "Experiences with Semantic Net Based Hypermedia," International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 43, 419-439, 1995.

[Zeleny 82] M. Zeleny, "Multiple Criteria Decision Making", McGraw Hill, 1982.