Monthly Archives: March 2011

Long web documents at a glance

There are two ways to speed up a computer task: Carry out the same steps you always have, but go faster, or find an easy-to-use tool that requires fewer steps.

If you need to navigate through long documents on the Internet — papers, standards documents, patent documents etc. — the Firefox HeadingsMap extension will save you a lot of time. It lets you navigate using a map of the headings in a document. The headings map also gives you a great overview — a quick mental map of the document. It works especially well with speech. And it shows errors in headings, which is useful when you’re putting together a long document.

HeadingsMap shows up as a small symbol containing an “h” on the Status bar at the bottom left corner of the Firefox window. If your Firefox window is maximized the “h” appears immediately above the “Start” button.

Click the “h” and a narrow window appears on the left containing all the headings and subheadings in a document. Click the “h” again and the window disappears. Right-click on the “h” and you’re presented with configuration options. I usually uncheck the “levels” checkbox, which makes the headings map a little cleaner looking.

In general, there are three different ways to navigate among items on tree views like the headings map:
– the mouse
– the Up/Down arrows
– the letter keys

The most efficient way to implement letter keys navigation is to let the user type more than one key of a selection, say “d o” to select “dove” rather than “dinosaur”. A less efficient way is to treat every letter as a new navigation event and jump to the next instance beginning with that letter.

Fortunately, HeadingsMap has implemented all three methods, including the efficient letter key method.This method works especially well with speech because you simply say the whole word to navigate to it, e.g. “dove”.

You can download the HeadingsMap extension here:

And here are a couple of especially long documents you can try it out on:
A paper on the effects of climate change on birds from the Public Library of Science:
The public draft of a World Wide Web Consortium standards document: