Navigating information spaces in new and wonderful ways
Here comes a set of tools and services that show the new cutting edge of what it means to navigate information. If you have been a long time reader you will recall the great navigation approaches utilized by Thinkmap Visual Thesaurus and Sony Music Licensing (see Interface design - navigation systems ).
We did also explore the fantastic visual navigation approach pioneered by Webbrain in his unique search engine implementation.
But the two information technologies services I am presenting here today have something more fascinating an unique than any of the ones explored so far.
For the first time, the information space is becoming a "landscape" or rather I should say an "infoscape". Information takes on a visual metaphor to simplify and expand the breadth of our view.
Information design reaches new application grounds with extreme effectiveness and simplicity.
Now mountains and valleys within maps take on a different meaning, as architectural buildings and their characterisitcs help information seekers identify at a glance who has more or better information about a certain topic.
It is a fantastic new "universe" to explore and to learn from. Take a dive with me.
WebMap is a visual navigation system integrated with a search engine. It is like Yahoo on visual steroids. You can dig down into categories that have become terrains and coloured areas, or mountains and valleys depending on their releveancy level.
This is a great model of how new and effective navigation systems will start to be in the near future.
WebMap Technologies' vision is to change the way people interact with information. The commanding beliefg is that textual representation of information belongs to the past and that the future lies in visual information mapping, an intuitive and visual experience to search and navigate information.
Visual information technologies, information design and search engine technology can rapidly set out to change the way the world navigates systems of information.
WebMap goal is clearly the replacing of the deeply rooted cultural habit of textual representation with a new paradigm: representing information with icons, colors and shapes with a dynamic, fractal interface.
By creating a visual experience that makes the need to sort through endless textual lists obsolete, WebMap presents information in a way that visually directs you to the information you are looking for.
How does WebMap work?
To make WebMap work you require a PC (sorry Mac friends), and you need to download a small application.
Once you land on WebMap the first thing you can do is to look at the initial information map displayed, and unllike on a major text-based directory, select by clicking the visual part of the map which represents the category of information you are interested in exploring.
The general interface metaphor is based on "zooming", just like when you browse through folders that you click to open. Through clicking and zooming closer on different areas, you perform visually the same process you go through when you navigate, in a more linear way a set of Yahoo categories.
As you click on area and "zoom" into it, the map reveals a higher level of detail and a new set of relevant visual areas to explore. Each area is clearly labelled and when you hover with the mouse around the map, you get to see a lot of detailed info.
In the words of WebMap this is a new approach to exploring information that seamlessly integrates navigation, browsing and searching at the same time and within the same intuitive visual interface.
The topography on the WebMap reflects traffic. The more traffic a site experiences, the higher it will be on the InternetMap "mountains". The topography gets more detailed as you "zoom" deeper into a map. Locating the most visited Web sites is easy-- just look for the highest "mountains". The topography will help you direct your movement through the different levels of the WebMap by helping you locate the most useful information.
Icons are located logically within a category based on their content. The closer that two Web sites are in terms of their content, the closer their icons appear in physical space on the InternetMap.
"WebMap provides a broad overview of more than two million Web sites that is organized according to content, literally presenting the entire Web in a single screen shot. Textual lists are replaced with a visual Internet experience. Users easily understand where they should zoom in order to find what they want.
This new way to retrieve information is faster and easier than current methods. It uses familiar cues from daily life to help you find the information you need in a timely and convenient fashion." (from the WebMap website - http://www.webmap.com.)
WebMap allows you always to have an "overview" at the information space you are looking at. You do not need to read each individual result description to have an idea of what you are looking at.
Visual clues facilitate your understanding of what is important and what is not.
Site names can be viewed just by hovering the mouse on the red spots that pop up on a map after a search.
WebMap customizes itself according to your preferences. It will remember sites and places you have gone to, and it allows you to move websites across categories.
You can search by using either Google or the ODP (Open Directory Project) as your selected search engine powering the results displayed by WebMap.
Requires a one time downloading of a the WebMap application components. On my ISDN 64kbps line, it required less than 10 minutes to download it all.
Works only on PCs with Internet Explorer 5, though a Netscape version is promised on their web site.
It does not perform as fast as text-based directories like Yahoo, though it is not terribly affected by medium to slow connections (28.8 bps or below).
Download your copy at:
Map.net is the first visual web search engine / directory technology which can be applied to any large information database.
A visual search engine like map.net provides intuitive, fun navigation and relevant search results.
At Map.net you can in fact find an interactive geographical map of the Internet (based on the Antartica region) using ODP data. It is basically the same concept we have seen in WebMap but implemented through a different technology and with a markedly different and more complex visual engine.
This is in some respects a step forward of what we maybe able to see in the near future when we will seek specific information on the web. A completely visual information space, through which one can actually move and locate information according to visual traits and characteristics (size, height, position, colour, architecture/style, etc.).
By being a more mature project than WebMap and having gone through more development and refinement phases, Map.net enjoys already a number of organizations which have applied this technology to their information databases.
One is McDonal & Associates' "Venture Capital Deal Map". This is a firm that helps companies find Canadian venture capital information through a totally visual infoscape. Go see it at:
The other is PubMed. The national library of medicine.
Go see it at:
The information design solutions utilized in this visual search engine interface are extremely effective and nicely implemented.
Finally I start to see an elegant and effective use of colour, size, and small graphic elements to connotate and display multiple data factors.
This is the way to go.
Each site is represented by a little round "target" icon which can have several values. Its size, the white area around its center, the spikes and line connectors coming out of it, the presence and size of its border. All contribute to tell a great story about each site in a snapshot.
To accomplish the same feat with a text-only solution would be next to impossible, unless one would sacrifice breadth and comprehensiveness of view for amount of detail info.
Popularity, connectdness, number of pages on the site, and other valuable information are all represented visually, and once referenced, they can be understood by our human brain in a snapshot.
Just by glancing at one screen, you'll know:
a) how popular the site is
b) how big the site is
c) which sites have been personally recommended
d) and whether or not a site is the type of site you're looking for.
On the left column of each map relevant subcategories are color coded in a way that immediately helps your eye find them in the visually space displayed next to them.
Map.net allows surfers of this fantastic infoscape the option of "switching" to a 3D view. In this case a small applet is downloaded to your computer, before you are allowed to navigate this fascinating representation of data.
Once loaded, and hopefully equipped with a good Pentium II or better class machine, you will be able to easily navigate a full 3D infoscape made up of buildings, houses and skycrapers that represent real web sites. You can easily move in any direction, as well as zoom in and out of this infoscape.
It is very intriguing, at least the first few times.
Speed-wise map.net performs almost as a standard search engine.
Quite fast indeed.
It DOES NOT require the installation or downloading of any plug-in or software. It works immediately through your standard browser.
There is a "Teleport" function allowing you to "jump" directly to any category of the Map.net infoscape, without requiring you to navigate through the needed sequence of visual levels.
Map.net has just started to deploy banner ads on their demonstration technology I have reviewed here. I personally deeply dislike it, and find it highly inappropriate in such a a precisely designed visually space.
I would rather prefer to pay a small fee to access it, after a 30-day trial period.
If you want to learn and "see" all of the things this visual search engine can do, go and download a Flash-based (.swf) introductory demo which well showcase, in less than 3 minutes all of map.net features. It si worth looking at:
http://map.net/help/flashdemo.swf (1.4 MB)
The alternative is to go and see directly map.net in action.
= must have
Link Viewer is a new powerful tool capable of representing a "map of any Web-land" in a fascinating and interactive graphical format.
If you need to visualize a web site structure, depth, number of pages and links, dead links this is a very effective tool to use.
Link Viewer displays all of the links of any site in chart form. It is really useful for finding out exactly where all of the links of a certain web site go.
Pages which are displayed in red colour denote "inaccesible pages", and the program has a lot of different view modes which allow you to separate links to other domains from the links within your domain.
One of the great and never-seen-before features is the ability of this mapping tool to report in the graphical map names and URL for each page. Further to this you can zoom in and out of the map through a nice slider controlling dynamic enlargement and reduction 1% to 110%.
When needing to print one of the great looking information maps Link Viewer produces, you can even interactively decide how large or small will the print out on paper (most web site with more than 100 pages produce maps that would require stitching many individual pages to recreate a full and legible map, where each page is clearly labelled and referenced).
As if this was not enough, the map can be exported in a number of graphic file formats including .wmf, .emf, .jpg, and .bmp.
You can manage hyperlink analysis process and choose the most appropriate graphical representation by specifying several options which are grouped in an easy-to-understand way. You can also add new "pages" and "links" or delete the old ones in your map to represent your wishes more precisely.
This must be some kind of ideal tool for Information Architects of all kinds. It is possible to edit URLs and titles of the web pages analyzed and mapped. You can supply each page with personal annotations and free-form comment.
A report about broken links is generated automatically.
Print option allows you produce large size wallpapers.
You can save maps as vector or bitmap Windows metafiles.
Link Viewer has also a Reporting function which creates a full HTML report of the site selected reporting on bad links and on all the URLs linked to from the selected site.
If the site you are analyzing is rich in content and has many web pages it may take a long time for Link Viewer to do its job.
Link Viewer "scans" the content of each page looking for links to other pages, and consequently it can consume considerable time on large pages with many outgoing links.
The download version is a trial. All of the key functions in the "Map" menu become disabled after you select anyone of them. That allows you to try the specific functionality, but with some fastidious limitations.
The program is free to use for 30 days.
Download it at:
After the 30 days free trial period registration fee is USD $39.
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