Visualizing the World Wide Web:
Putting the User in the Driver's Seat
Organized and chaired by Nahum D. Gershon, The MITRE Corporation
Information is dispersed over many Internet
resources and quite frequently, users feel lost, confused, and overwhelmed.
The panel and the audience will discuss how advances in interactive
computer graphics and visualization software and hardware could make the
information distributed over the Internet more intuitively searchable,
accessible, and easier to use by people from all walks of life and interests.
This will enable the us to make full use of the Internet's information
universe from our computers.
- Stephen G. Eick, AT&T Bell Laboratories
- Joseph Hardin, Assoc. Director, National Center for Supercomputing Applications, Univ. of IL
- Frank Kappe, Leader, Hypermedia Group, Institute for Information Processing and Computer-Based New Media (IICM), Graz University of Technology, Graz, Austria
- James Pitkow, Visualization, and Usability Center, Georgia Institute of Technology
- William A. Ruh, Assoc. Technical Director, The MITRE Corporation
We live in an exciting time. Connecting numerous information-stuffed
computers dispersed around the world has created an exciting universe of
information. This information revolution has enabled us to explore this
universe from our computers. However captivating, we still have a long
way before the use of this information universe is easy and intuitive.
Information is dispersed in many sources over the Internet and at times
users feel lost, confused, and overwhelmed (justifiably so). To find
required information or to browse through information, users need
nowadays to confront frustrating searches through arrays of user-
debilitating menus and belligerent computer systems. Some of the remote
sources are massive and once the user has got the information, he or she
needs to browse through large amounts of text, data tables, and images.
How should the user know where the sources of the relevant information
reside, how to get them, and, once the sources are retrieved, how to get the
relevant information from them?
The World Wide Web (WWW), developed at CERN, Switzerland, and
Hyper-G, developed at Graz Univ. of Technology, allow the user through a
set of menus to roam through information spaces of documents or images.
Captivating browsers, such as NCSA Mosaic and also Harmony have
transformed the process of getting information off these Internet distributed
information systems. However, some major difficulties still remain.
Advances in interactive computer graphics hardware and mass storage have
created new possibilities for information navigation, retrieval, and access in
which visualization and user interface (UI) could play a central role. The
question is how to utilize the advances in graphics technology and
experience to reduce these frustrations and lower the time and cost of
navigating through the information dispersed over the Internet, finding
specific information, and accessing it once found.
If we do not involve the users in designing the information highway and its
interfaces, we will create useless information systems. As long as there is a
human being sitting in the front of the screen, the user interface of the
information highway needs to be user-oriented (UO), taking the user needs
into account. To be able to do so, we need to understand
These are some of the difficulties and issues confronting the design of
human interfaces to the Internet and other distributed information systems
of the future. And, there are more:
- How human beings perceive information visually
- How the human mind works when searching for unknown or known information. How it is similar to visual processes
- The medium of the computer and its associated visual display.
Users come in many flavors. How do we create user interface,
navigation, and search methods that will cater to users of many
different kinds, levels of understanding, capabilities, and cultures
- Information representation has many views. Information
representation is multifaceted and flexible. This flexibility could be
used to suit the user's needs. However, simple views like these are
often not supported by systems today without significant effort on the
- Information is abstract. There is not always a straightforward
mapping between an abstract information space and the display physical
space. This is a problem that graphic designers have been struggling
with for generations. Appropriate visual organization could make the
understanding of the processes contained in the information easier.
- How information visualization could transform the traditional methods
of information navigation, retrieval, and access beyond the automation
of a library process?
- Is there is a way to browse through information using a better interface
than sequential menus?
- How to facilitate information organizations that are flexible and
changeable (e.g., changing the links among documents, providing
global and detailed views of the information)?
- What are efficient visual abstractions that speed visual perception and
understanding? What is the role of experience and training?
- How to incorporate use semiautonomous agents with visualization
processes to reduce the work load?
- How to maximize the user interaction with the system?
- What are the users' needs?
Putting the User in Charge of the Information Space Using
Visual Skills-- Nahum Gershon
One of the major problems of current information systems distributed over
the Internet is that the information is rigidly put in place. Pieces of
information are linked together in a rigid structure-- no changes are
allowed. However, these pieces of information could be related to each
other in various ways depending on the application, problem, personal way
of thinking and perception, or culture. For distributed information systems
to be effective, they should allow each user to construct his or her own
information space with links and associations (among pieces of information
and whole documents and images ) that fit the problem, application, or ways
of thinking and perception.
Another major problem facing systems of today is that while surfing over
the Internet, users often do not know where they are in information space
and do not remember how they got there. In short, users are lost. One
solution is to provide users with both a local and a global view of the
information space. These views should be represented visually to promote
quick perception and understanding. The user can "jump" from one
document to another by clicking the mouse button without the necessity to
go back resource by resource. This eliminates the necessity to go back
"page by page.
Enabling the user to modify interactively the links among the documents
and images using a visual display and to (visually) view the information
space globally and locally have been implemented over the World Wide
Web in a MITRE enhancement to NCSA Mosaic.
Visualizing Global Networks -- Stephen G. Eick
The Internet's accessibility, richness, growth, and popularity makes it ideal
for exercising network visualization tools. Effective, task-oriented
visualizations will make features of the Internet immediately recognizable
by highlighting patterns and enabling the user to discover interesting and
useful insights about the Internet. The Internet, as with all networks,
consists of nodes, links, and statistics associated with the nodes and links.
The statistics may be time varying, as may the network structure. The link
statistics may involve packet traffic between the sites or the number of users
following specific site-to-site hypertext web links; the node statistics may
involve the number of accesses to particular home pages.
Research focus on network visualization needs to involve inventing the
visual metaphors, interaction techniques, and infrastructure for displaying
large networks. Methods to display networks often involve node and link
diagrams, with the glyphs encoding the node statistics positioned spatially,
perhaps in 3D, and lines drawn between the nodes encoding the link
statistic. The usual methods for creating node and link diagrams work well
for small networks, but for large networks, such as the Internet, the
displays become cluttered and visually confusing. We have developed three
network visualization systems that solve the display clutter problems in
different ways using layout algorithms, 3D, and animations to show patterns
andcommunities of interest. These techniques allow for visualizing
networks with hundreds of thousands of nodes and links, and statistics many
Navigation on the Web-- Joseph Hardin
In the last 24 months, hundreds of thousands of people have been introduced
to hypermedia through World Wide Web browsers like NCSA Mosaic.
These tools provide users with the ability to easily browse through the
global online information mass by simply clicking on hyperlinks. An early
addition to the textual hyperlink was the ability to map links to images or
portions of images. Anything that could be placed in an image with a
format like GIF could be made into a link or set of links. This resulted in a
rapid blossoming of methods on the Web to provide people with visual
signposts to online resources. Maps, pictures of buildings, images of floor
plans, aerial views of cities all were put up on the Web and used as guides to
a variety of subject domains. This portion of the panel will tour some of
these examples of visual navigation on the Web, discussing the ways authors
have utilized graphic navigation, and the advantages and limitations of
Browsing and Navigation Through Deep Hyperspace-- Frank Kappe
One of the big issues in finding information in the Internet is what is known
as the "lost in hyperspace" syndrome: users cannot get an overview, cannot
find specific information, stumble over the same information again and
again, cannot identify new and outdated information, cannot find out how
much information there is on a given topic and how much of it has been
I can see three counter measures to deal with this problem: reasonable a-
priori organization of information, advanced search facilities, and visual
navigation aids. Based on my experience with Hyper-G, the distributed
information system developed at Graz University of Technology, I have the
strong feeling that a combination of the three approaches can significantly
reduce the "lost in hyperspace" syndrome, and I propose to explore the
usefulness of graphical navigation aids to the extent possible.
As an example, Harmony (the X11 client for Hyper-G) supports a
"collection browser" which lets users navigate through the hierarchical
collection structure of the Hyper-G information base. In the analogy of
real-world navigation, the collection browser can be compared to a set of
overview maps, which has been organized in a hierarchical fashion. A
"local map" can be generated on demand which gives a graphical overview
of the hyperlink structure around the current document (like a street map).
Probably the most important navigation aid is "location feedback": the
collection browser always shows the position of the current document with
respect to the collection hierarchy, regardless of whether the current
document has been accessed using Hyper-G's powerful search facilities, by
following a hyperlink, or using the collection browser itself. In the real
world analogy, this feature would correspond to a GPS device coupled with
the set of maps.
In addition, we have recently implemented an "information landscape",
which is a 3-D graphical overview of the collection structure. Users can
"fly" over the hyperspace landscape looking for salient features, select
interesting documents, etc. Having three dimensions, the landscape can
display more objects without becoming crowded and can encode more
attributes (e.g., type, age, size) than the collection browser in 2-D. For
example, it is easy to look over a sea of thousands of objects and pick out
the green ones (objects that have been recently modified, for example).
In the future, we plan to implement 3-D visualizations of the both the local
map (going 3-D has the advantage that the nodes of an arbitrary graph can
be positioned so that no interconnections intersect) and search results
(encoding numerous features of the objects matched, rather than just a one-
dimensional list sorted by match score). Usability tests will have to reveal
whether these visualizations are really useful for end users or just
New Fuel for New Visualizations-- James Pitkow
Focus is rightly shifting away from the constrained environment of within
document navigation towards visual abstractions. Yet, these new
representations and metaphors are limited by the extent of the properties
associated with each displayed object. Efforts like the Dublin Core 
which recommend a minimal set of meta information for networked
objects, are an important first step. Our latest focus has been on the
introduction of new analysis techniques and properties of objects accessible
via the Web to be coupled into visualization systems like the Navigation
View Builder  and the Hyperbolic Browser . Additional efforts have
been on the development of a scalable hyperlink infrastructure  to
facilitate visualization systems in the determination of first order structure
of objects. Our goal is to facilitate the development of new metaphors by
the construction of visualization systems that are based on useful and
pioneering meta information.
The Role of Graphics in Future Information Delivery Systems--
William A. Ruh
Next generation information systems will be very different than those
fielded today. The stimulus for change is the need for organizations to
improve the exploitation of their corporate information assets as well as to
effectively exploit the massive amounts of information available from
external sources and integrate these two. This information is inherently
different than the information around which today's systems are built.
Current information systems are developed around the management of
reasonably sized, highly structured, record information. New information
systems will be built around the management of massive, un- and semi-
structured, multimedia information.
One of the four major issues that need to be addressed is the organization,
retrieval and exploitation of this massive information base. Is current
technology adequate for providing integrated retrieval tools on the user's
desktop and organized access to large volumes of data? Can the system
search a massive collection in a reasonable time and identify precisely the
items of interest to the user?
Graphical, tailorable display of information will be critical to this next
generation. Access devices will include hand held computers where there
will be no keyboard and maybe even no visual display, only audio.
Mapping between mediums and modes, understanding what is appropriate
and when are all critical issues. This will require a multi-disciplinary
approach for development of graphical applications and interfaces.
Stephen G. Eick
Stephen G. Eick is the Technical Manager of the Data Visualization
Research Group at AT\&T Bell Laboratories. His research focuses on
extracting the information latent in large databases using novel interactive
visualizations. This involves inventing the techniques, developing the
software tools, and building an infrastructure to mine knowledge from
corporate databases so that it can be put to competitive and commercial
advantage. His research group has developed a suite of visualizations
including tools for visualizing geographic and abstract networks, software
source code, text corpora, log files, program slices, and relational
databases, among others. Eick is an active researcher, holds several
software patents. He is particularly interested in visualizing databases
associated with large software projects, networks, and building high-
interaction user interfaces. His educational background includes a B.A
from Kalamazoo College (1980), M.A. from the University of Wisconsin at
Madison (1981), and Ph.D. in Statistics from the University of Minnesota
Nahum D. Gershon
Nahum D. Gershon is a Principal Scientist at The MITRE Corp. His work
is concerned with data and information visualization, network browsers,
image processing, data organization, and analysis of medical,
environmental, and other multidimensional data. He pursues research in the
use of understanding of the perceptual system in improving the visualization
process. He has received his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the
Weizmann Institute of Science and has held position at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins Univ., and the National Institutes of
Health. He serves as a member of the Advisory Panel of the Earth
Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) and the Focus
Group on Visualization and Presentation of the White House's Globe
Joseph Hardin has been the Associate Director for Software Development at
the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the
University of Illinois from 1992 to the present. Previously, he was the
Manager for the Software Development Group, the coordinator of the
Academic Affiliates Program at NCSA, and a visiting research associate at
NCSA. His experience includes teaching in the department of Speech
Communication at the University of Georgia at Athens and graduate work
in Linguistics, Sociology and Communications at the University of Illinois.
He was Co-Chair of the Second International World Wide Web Conference:
Mosaic and the Web. He was a founder and is currently a Co-Chair of the
International World Wide Web Conferences Committee.
Joseph has worked as a consultant in business computer communications,
database management, and office organization. He was editor for The
Champaign-Urbana Weekly news magazine from 1979 to 1982, where he
also wrote the wine column. He has received a number of development
grants and awards in the area of scientific software development. He has
spoken extensively on workstation tools for computational science and the
human dimensions of collaboration technologies in cyberspace. Recent
Papers, Presentations, Conference Participation
Frank Kappe is the leader of the Hypermedia Group at the Institute for
Information Processing and Computer Based New Media (IICM) of the
Graz University of Technology, and Director of Software Development at
the Institute for Hypermedia Systems of Joanneum Research (a non-profit
research organization). As such, he has been responsible for the design and
implementation of Hyper-G. He holds an M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in
computer science, both from Graz University of Technology.
James Pitkow is a Graphics, Visualization, & Usability graduate student at
Georgia Tech's College of Computing. He graduated Cum Laude in
Computer Science Applications in Psychology from the University of
Colorado at Boulder in 1993. It was during an undergraduate research
assistanceship at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, that
James was exposed to distributed networked environments, like the Internet
and the World-Wide Web (WWW), as part of NASA's Earth Observing
System Distributed Information System (EOSDIS). That work followed
James to Georgia Tech where he is actively contributing to WWW
developments. Besides being the originator and principal researcher for the
GVU's WWW User Surveys, James has made contributions in the areas of
publishing environments, hyperlink databases, access log analysis, and
navigation strategies. His current research interests include user modeling,
adaptive interface strategies, and information foraging theory.
William A. Ruh
William Ruh is the Executive Director of Information Technology and Services
Division and the Director of the Open Systems Center at the MITRE Corporation.
The Open Systems Center has a charter for maintaining and developing MITRE
expertise in advanced distributed information systems architectures,
commercial product evaluations, corporate standards coordination and
research in image and text processing, user interfaces, visualization,
collaborature, and multimedia. He has responsibility for providing analysis,
design, and consulting expertise in all of these areas to MITRE programs.
In addition, William Ruh coordinates the corporation's projects in Open
Source information processing and retrieval. He has an M.S. and B.S. in
Computer Science from California State University at Fullerton and has
held positions at IBM and Franklin Pierce College.
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