Applying Information Visualization Techniques to Web Navigation

Preliminary Thesis Proposal

0. Abstract

This paper is a very early draft of a thesis proposal to do research in the application of various information visualization techniques to the problem of navigating and finding information on the World Wide Web (WWW). In its current state, this paper is more of an outline than a complete statement. This paper is intended to include a comprehensive review if the Information Visualization literature, followed by proposals for future research in applying Information Visualization techniques to the problems of browsing and querying the WWW. Information that does not yet appear in this paper includes:

0.1 Outline

  1. Introduction
    1. Why Information Visualization?
    2. What is Information Visualization?
    3. Using Perception
  2. Information Visualization Techniques
    1. Focus+Context
    2. Zooming and Filtering
    3. User Interface Widgets
    4. Perceptual Impedance Matching
  3. Current Applications
    1. Information Visualizers
    2. Existing Web Applications
  4. Proposed Web Applications
  5. References

1. Introduction

This section presents the following topics:

1.1 Why Information Visualization?

This section discusses the rationale for looking at Information Visualization as a solution to assimilating information. It discusses the usual suspects:

What information visualization provides that other interfaces do not:

1.2 What is Information Visualization?

Visual Information Seeking Mantra:
Overview first, zoom and filter, then details-on-demand. (Schneiderman)
Information Visualization is:
"Information visualization uses computer graphics and interactive animation to stimulate recognition of patterns and structure in information. It does so by exploiting the human perceptual system in ways similar to Scientific Visualization, which allows scientists to perceive patters in large data collections....Information visualization works on the structure of information inherent in large information spaces." [ROBE91b]
"The basic problem is how to utilize advancing graphics technology to lower the cost of finding information and accessing it once found." [ROBE93]
"Visualization enables people to use a natural tool of observation and processing—their eyes as well as their brain—to extract knowledge more efficiently and find insights." [GERS95b]
"Information, then, need not be inherently spatial. But because we live and perceive in a physical world, it is easier to convey the information to the observer if the information is represented by being mapped to the familiar physical space." [GERS95b]
"While the term "information visualization" is coming into use, the goal is really "information perceptualization." The latter implies a richer use of many senses, including sound and touch, to increase the rate at which people can assimilate and understand information." [CARD96]

1.3 Using Perception

We speak of offloading the task of information assimilation from the perceptual system to the cognitive system. This means that we tailor the information so that the eye can quickly distinguish salient features before the brain begins to process it. The perceptual system operates in a time range of 10 to 100 milliseconds. The cognitive systems operated in a time range of hundreds of milliseconds to several minutes. If we can tailor the information such that the perceptive system can process, we can speed the task of human information assimilation by several orders of magnitude.

To do this, we must present the information using features that the eye can distinguish quickly. These features include, but are not limited to, the following:

We use these features, and look for others that aid the human perceptual system in distinguishing salient information.

Humans can recognize the spatial configuration of elements in a picture and notice relationships among elements quickly. This highly developed visual system means people can grasp the content of a picture much faster than they can scan and understand text.

"Interface designers can capitalize on this by shifting some of the cognitive load of information retrieval to the perceptual system. By appropriately coding properties by size, position, shape, and color, we can greatly reduce the need for explicit selection, sorting, and scanning operations." [SHNE94]

The eye is not equally sensitive to detecting horizontal and vertical lines (or features). the apparent location of vertical lines is often displaced, whereas the apparent location of horizontal lines is not....people can better perceive the relative positions of horizontal, in contrast to vertical lines.

Problems with 3D coding: from [FADIVA Shneiderman]

2. Information Visualization Techniques

This section presents four different categories of Information Visualization techniques:

More techniques mentioned by Shneiderman [FADIVA workshop]

2.1 Focus and Context

Furnas (1986) investigated the fisheye view, a kind of lens that magnifies a small area of a display, allowing the periphery of the display to remain visible while receding into the background. Others later expanded on this technique to create a series of techniques that allow a user to view a small central focus while maintaining the visibility of a larger context. This focus+context concept is exemplified by the following IV visual techniques:

"Detailed views of particular parts of an information set are blended in some way with a view of the overall structure of the set." [LAMP95]
"Any presentation technique that displays a large information space (the context) with some portion of it in more detail (the focus)." [citrin - not listed yet]

Focus+Context techniques:

2.2 Zooming and Filtering

Sometimes the quantity of information available makes it undesirable to display all of it. This might occur for any of the following reasons:

In these cases, we want to filter the information in some way. If this filtering takes the form of selecting a subset of the data along a range of numerical values of one or more dimensions, we call this kind of filtering zooming. Filtering and zooming work by recuding the amount of context in the display; this distinguishes them from the focus+context techniques, which attempt to retain all the contextual information even if it must drawn so small as to make it virtually invisisble.

The following information visualization techniques make use of filtering and zooming:

Again, I intend to analyze, discuss, and picture all these techniques.

2.3 Widgets for Information Visualization

Along with visual display techniques, information visualization has bred a new series of interaction methods for dealing with large amounts of information. These techniques allow the user to select a focus, filter out extraneous information, zoom in on certain ranges of information, and create complex query criteria for finding particular information. The following interaction techniques are particularly useful when used in conjunction with the visual techniques discussed above.

I will discuss all of these in detail, and show pictures of each.

2.4 Perceptual Impedance Matching

There are many techniques we can use to increase the speed with which a user can interact with information. In addition to the visual characteristics such as color and size that trigger responses in the human perceptual system, there are techniques that help keep the user working and keep the user from becoming disoriented. I call these techniques perceptual impedance matching because they try to keep the flow of information constant and flowing.

I classify the following techniques not as focus+context techniques, not as filtering techniques, and not as widgets, but as perceptual impedance matching techniques.


From [GERS95b]: (quoted)

3. Current Applications

This section contains information about information visualizers and existing applications of Information Visualization techniques to the World-Wide Web.

3.1 Information Visualizers

This section discusses the following applications that either use Information Visualization techniques or function as test beds for exploring new Information Visualization techniques.

3.2 Information Visualizer


3 components:

perceptual processing time constant: 100 ms


3.3 Information Visualization Exploration Environment (IVEE)



3.3 Film Finder & Home Finder


Uses starfield display and zoom bar.

3.4 DeckView


Uses a thumbnail view of postscript pages.


3.5 Existing Web Applications

There have already been many attempts to apply these visualization techniques to accessing the WWW. Some of these applications include the following:

3.6 Zooming Web Browser


3.7 Narcissus


3.8 Harmony Internet Browser


hand-crafted vs. automatically-generated presentations

2D structure maps:

3D features

3.9 MITRE enhancements to NCSA Mosaic


(includes 2D view of word correlations)

Another problem for Internet surfers is that often they do not know where they "are" in information space and cannot remember how they got there. This is sometimes referred to as being "lost in cyberspace."...One remedy is to provide users with a view of the information space available to them. The user can "jump" from one document to another by clicking the mouse button without having to backtrack resource by resource, or in Web parlance, page by page. [GERS95b]

new tool for word correlation

3.10 Navigational View Builder

which uses two different techniques:

[MUKH95a] also [MUKH95b]

3.11 Tabular Visualization


(3D blocks in a 2D space)

3.12 Web Search Services

In addition to these applications, a there are a variety of new WWW search services that explore multiple search paths in parallel and collate the results. This has the effect of performing some of the filtering that is part of the Information Visualization "bag of tricks." These services include, but are not limited to:

3.13 MetaCrawler


4. Proposed Applications of IV Techniques to the Web

I'd like to restrict this discussion to the use of Information Visualization techniques to display various kinds of information obtained from the WWW. There is a temptation to get bogged down in Information Retrieval techniques. Information Retrieval is a related and very relevant subject, but it is also a lot bigger than I'd like to get into. Instead, I prefer to focus on the kinds of information we can already obtain from the WWW, and consider ways we can visualize that already-existing data more efficiently.

I believe there are four questions we must ask about how we intend to visualize web data.

  1. What kind of data do we want to visualize?
  2. What kind of visualization techniques do we want to use?
  3. How do we want to implement the visualization front end? That is, what platform, software, libraries, etc. do we want to use for drawing the displays?
  4. How do we want to implement the back end? That is, how do we want to collect the information that we will then visualize?

4.1 What kind of data to visualize?

I'd like to think about sorting and filtering WWW data based on the following kinds of characteristics:

4.2 What visualization techniques to use?

Well-suited for this application:

Not well suited for this application:

4.3 How to implement the visualization front end?

That is, what platform, software, libraries, etc. do we want to use for drawing the displays?

4.4 How do we want to implement the back end?

That is, how do we want to collect the information that we will then visualize?

The back end must be powerful enough to sort and sift data quickly. It must also have a fast connection to the internet so it can gather the information quickly.

The Suns here at school are powerful and well-connected, but not everyone has a Sun. What if the researcher is working at home? What if working over a phone line? Then in might be better to offload the data collection to a back-end machine, and on the front end machine perform only the graphics rendering.

MetaCrawler is implemented not as a web browser running on the client machine, but as a CGI script running on the (back-end) server machine. This allows it do perform its searches and collations very quickly, returning only the end results to the user. This takes the most advantage of the server's fast connection to the internet, the server's more powerful sorting features, and the client browser's familiarity (you can use Netscape), acessibility (you can use it at home), and graphics (you can use your own Mac or PC or whatever you have at home.)

5. References

Separate document