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The application I am working on allows users to specify sections, and pages within these sections. They are all related to the same area of the site, so I don't want to hide the secondary navigation from being accessible right away.

I initially did this via a drop down menu. The first list being the 'category' or 'section name' and the links that appeared upon hovering over these sections would be the subsections or 'pages'.

This seems messy to me in retrospect I am currently trying to find alternatives. The crucial consideration is the balance between the user being able to specify as many sections and subsections as they like and making it accessible and easy to use. That may be an overly ambitious aim.

I wondered if anyone here had any good tips, things I should consider, examples of it being done successfully that I can learn from.

What makes good navigation when the user is providing the links?

Edit: To answer points raised in the answers/comments. The page has a dashboard which will display the content that is selected from the links. Therefore most of the space needs to be for such content leaving little room for the links. Hence my decision to use the drop down lists (there are currently two, one for the primary sections and the 2nd which displays the sub-links for the current section).

I know that this is probably an impossible problem to solve, I thought I would ask in case there is an example of a site or method that handles this well. Cheers.

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You say you are short of space. Can you be more specific? For example "I need 80% of the screen area for the linked to page . Within the remaining 20% for navigation I want to show up to 480 links (though not all visible at the same time) in up to 20 categories - all without scrolling the screen" –  James Crook Jun 13 '11 at 16:52
    
Good point. I'll update my question. Cheers –  Damien Jun 13 '11 at 18:07
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2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Section and page-within-section is an example of master-details. You could put your page links in an accordion, a tab control, a classic master-details table, a tree... If I've understood your question rightly, it's the large potential number of sections that is militating against using a menu. A tree of hyperlinks could work well.

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See my problem is the result of the links has to appear on the same page so I am limited for room. –  Damien Jun 13 '11 at 15:57
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I would also suggest using an autocomplete style sollution, in combination with the tab, table, accordion,... this means, the user types something into a search box, and the list of visible links shrinks.

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