Home → Magazine Archive → November 1987 (Vol. 30, No. 11) → The vocabulary problem in human-system communication → Abstract

The vocabulary problem in human-system communication

By G. W. Furnas, T. K. Landauer, L. M. Gomez, S. T. Dumais

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 30 No. 11, Pages 964-971

In almost all computer applications, users must enter correct words for the desired objects or actions. For success without extensive training, or in first-tries for new targets, the system must recognize terms that will be chosen spontaneously. We studied spontaneous word choice for objects in five application-related domains, and found the variability to be surprisingly large. In every case two people favored the same term with probability <0.20. Simulations show how this fundamental property of language limits the success of various design methodologies for vocabulary-driven interaction. For example, the popular approach in which access is via one designer's favorite single word will result in 80-90 percent failure rates in many common situations. An optimal strategy, unlimited aliasing, is derived and shown to be capable of several-fold improvements.

The full text of this article is premium content


No entries found