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Original (updated) Source on Josef Betancourt's site


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Heterarchical Mapping of Information Spaces. (Rough Draft)

by Josef Betancourt 


     Information Visualization, Knowledge Mapping, Information Navigation, Web Navigation

Table of contents


"The World Wide Web, for all its pretty screens and fancy buttons, is, in effect, an invisible navigation space."  Bruce Tognazzini

     Currently, the Web is similar to an old style card catalog in the local library. You can find resources but to discover whether the resource is of value or even pertinent to your search you must retrive it. Luckily, the resource usually has metadata in the form of a Table of Contents and an Index to help peruse the contents. What if instead we take that metadata and make it available in a separate navigatable space? This navigational space would be meta-metadata, a first step toward knowledge.
This is the subject of navigational information mapping. What is a good term for this?

     This is an ongoing survey of the 'navigational' problem. The pros and cons of visual connectionist approaches are also presented.  Currently, this is really at the level of a resource link and a place to develop the concept of embedded information mapping and how that supports the theory that whereas information can be presented in hierarchical structures, knowledge is heterarchical .

     A related concept that will be explored is the differences between data, information, and knowledge.

     Note that there is a big difference between compsci gee-wiz solutions and practical approaches that 'any' person, from child to adult, can use.

Hypermedia systems are a parallel research topic. However, hypermedia systems (which are focused on the issues raised here) are here considered to be resources but not applicable since they (AFAIK) are not general purpose and easily used without training. Yet, the 'web' and personal 'intelligent' appliances must be.

     Note the term "Heterarchy" is used in Flexible Manufacturing Systems as well as in some far out AI, complexity, war theory (see the Infrastructural Warfare Slides)
See also, W. S. McCulloch. "A Heterarchy of values Determined by the Topology of Nervous Nets", Bull.math.biophys.7, 1945.
Help      Collaborators, guides, and resources on this 'white paper' are welcome.
I expect this paper to become better focused and come up with something interesting.
     Please, no comments on structure, grammer (such as run-on sentences), spelling, and so on, yet, unless it prohibits communications. Especially from my former Creative Writing professors!

The Problem

     Embedded hypertext links are one of the reasons the Internet has become so pervasive. Unfortunately, when it comes to providing more general access to these information spaces there are no clear solutions. [Give references to studies.]

     This problem is being addressed under various terms, such as Information Visualization, 3D web visualization, Hypertext Mappings, and other more technical terms. There are even some commercial products addressing this, and many research projects.

Some of the problems are;
device: resolution, range, workspace,
user: 7+/-4, grok, manipulation, 'handicaps', Fitts Law; Hick' Law
design: document-data design,
technology: html, xml, Java, JavaScript, Server Side, client
     In practice, web sites, portals, and e-commerce applications, employ tables, linear trees, search agents, and organizational cues. [I will be adding references to all this soon.]

     Mention the prevailing 'Navigational Pattern' being used.

The major problems with conventional solutions can be separated into two catagories:
Structure: scaling, navigation, coherent synisthesia.
Localization: space-time coordination with knowledge needs and intent as defined by semantic criteria.

Theme?: Whereas information can be presented in hierarchical structures, knowledge is heterarchical.

Update  Data:sequence, information:hierarchy, knowledge:network, wisdom:heterarchy.. See also the Organizing Thoughts into Sequences, Hierarchies, and Networks by Andrius Kulikauskas and Saulius Maskeliunas. In the paper they write, "...restructuring makes for a qualitatively different visualization, giving six basic visualization types." Mention major players: Yahoo, Wired, MSN, Amazon, Mind Mappers, HCI researchers, etc. Requirements
  • Usability
    This would include various sub-requirements ranging from sensory fidelity to cognitive requirements imposed on the user.
    These requirements will be imposed by the various combinations of use,
    devices: WebTV, PalmPad, Kiosk, Cell Phones, etc.;
    expertise: cyberoids, Moms and pops, kids, handicapped;
    Intent: browsing vs. targeting (which may alternate in one session).
  • Security
  • Since a link or navigational system provides access to potentially inappropriate or private content, updating of such systems must include security and access measures such as passwords, roles, filtering, and standards.
    One can also envision a navigational db being a competitive advantage and so must also follow business protocols for use and dissemination.

  • Fast
    A navigational system should be much faster than the content it is providing navigation for. There are two aspects to this. The download, if any, of the navigational system will take an amount of time that is dependent on the extent of the navigational target, and the navigation within the navigation structure also has its own timing factors.
    These are contradictory requirements. For example, if we are downloading or accessing a information mapper for the 'Web' than if we attempt to load the complete structure (captured in a db), this would be a prohibitive action. However, if we access subsets, our access is quicker but our navigation within this structure is slowed, and it is necessary to introduce hierarchies and other external constraints.
    A streamed model is probably the way to go. Based on current or visited nodes in the db, 'islands' or clustering centers would be downloaded to the client. [Will have to clarify this further.]
  • High Signal to Noise
    Navigators may introduce sensory devices to structure the navigational space. These must not overwhelm the users cognitive space. For example, a destination may be enclosed in a 3D box in a perspective view. While this makes the navigators 'theme' strong and cohesive it introduces hard to use textual content and a congested view, giving the user more information overload. Further, to accomodate the navigator, more manipulations are required of the user, such as scrolling, zooming, and property inquiries. Another example is showing links with visible lines. This too reinforces the theme but at the expense of complicating the view for users not interested in that detail.
  • Adaptation
    Use should optimize and extend navigational efficiency. Currently, public directories are static and do not adapt to interests and past activities of users. One must customize and manually create a 'subscription' or personal view.
    An adapting system would add nodes, links, even text, based on behavior. Many options exist for this type of adaptation. The system can add to the existing db, add to a history db, or engage the user in a dialog for the handling of this data.
  • Standards Based
    While the visual interface must be custom or client based the underlying data model and state transitions must be based on emerging standards addressing data transport and manipulations.
  • Granularity
    Information view granularity, the smallest manipulatable partition of the view, is related to the Stress in using the navigation system.
  • Scalability
    Proposed sytems may work well but suffer when the quantity or complexity of the the navigation database grows. This is the curse of dimensionality. This is especially problematic in connectionist approaches.
  • Localization
  • Customization
    Besides cosmetic changes such as 'skins' (which are way cool), customizations related to level of details, depth, range, etc. are required.
  • Distribution
    Distributed Databases, Agents, objects,
  • Replication
    Ubiquitous computing requirements.
  • Input diversity
    Mouse, keyboard, touch, command line,.....
  • Streaming
    Since a navigation space to be truly effective must be distributed and collaborative, a FLOW model is required. How?
  • Scripting
    Extension of behaviors. Interface to legacy systems.
    Must provide a public API as well as a Framework for its use.
    Multi-program language support.
    Are there any relevant standards? XML-RPC, Windows Scripting Host, DCOM, JavaBeans, WebLets, Web Intermediaries.....
  • Object Model
    Document Object Model?
  • Export/Import
    Import/export of structures or substructures. How to make tools interoperable?
  • Transforms
    As for example, a printable format.
  • Portability
    Should be portable to different OS or devices.
    That this is possible is hinted at the WWW itself.

Existing Approaches

Tree Controls

The ubiquitous tree control (TC) is the default navigational control used on both webbased and local computer interfaces. For example, it is used in Microsoft's Explorer file managers and in the Internet Explorer interface. It is also found on web pages, bookmark systems, ....

  • Scalibility
  • Locality
  • Hierarchy
  • Storage Based


     theBrain LLC created products for information management that emphasize relations rather than storage. Two of these products are PersonalBrain and SiteBrain.
  • A SiteBrain is a Brain usually used to navigate a web site.
  • A PersonalBrain is an 'application' (currently, Windows platform only) that provides means of accessing local and remote resources based on a connectionist information system, in contrast to location or containment sytems such as File Managers or Explorer.
  • A GuideBrain is a downloadable DeskTopBrain for general purpose information navigation.

Here is an illustration of the version 1.XX appearence of this product.

     There are similar competing products, such as Hypebolic Trees and Merz Scope. [Provide table giving more references. Future: make the sample WebBrain provide this.] In addition, Products from the fields of MindMapping and ConceptMapping are now providing similar functionality.

Note: A new open source project aimed at creating an XML language for sharing of data between theBrain and some of these products is now looking for participants. See Information Mapping XML project at Minciu Sodas.


     As currently implemented a SiteBrain is optimized for internal site linking, and the GuideBrain requires a download of a client. What is needed is a system that combines the two functions to allow general purpose web navigation.


     A WebBrain© is a navigational system created using Natrificial's SiteBrain technology, but used to navigate within or out of a web site.  

     It can be, as shown here, embedded in a separate 'float' window, or could be part of an existing web page in Frames, IFRAME, or Layers.   However, the free floating navigational window, captures the concept of a new auxilliary navigational web dimension. Where informational links can be navigated in addition to the link destinations.

How is this different from a web directory site such as Yahoo or About.com? Its not. However, when these brains are interlinked and modifiable a distributive navigational new 'degree-of-freedom' is available that is not under the control of an individual authority or directory. Just like web pages themselves.

After coming up with this concept and beginning to refine it, I began writing this draft. Then on 12-26-99, I did a web search for the term WebBrain. I did not find much, but then I put www.webbrain.com as a target in my browser and lo and behold, Natrificial is coming up with such a beast in early 2000!
There is no info at the site ( reminds me of TransMeta's site), so I don't know if what I came up with is similar, or if this is just a marketing concept related to SiteBrains.
*UPDATE* 4-4-2000
Natrificial's WebBrain site is up. It is an application of the SiteBrain to a web directory based on the Open Directory Project. Pretty cool!


from site: http://ourworld.cs.com/tcmits1/

A Solution

After my look at Navigation, I have come up with a 'solution' that I will try to convey. Right now it is not concrete, but a hazy visual-kinetic picture in my noodle.

1. The default universal interface is the Automatic Teller Machine. Why is this so?
-- Fisks Law, Hicks Law, (7 +- 3) !!!!!!!
2. The 'desktop' is the 'default' computer user interface. The ability to just drop things on it and have them available is conveniant and easy. Task bars add to this ease.
Note how similar this is to the ATM and even old style computer interfaces before GUIs came along.
How to combine these and also use new ideas from the Diagrammatic approaches?

One approach is to keep the 'desktop' drag and drop container system wherein 'folders' and short-cuts are deposited to provide navigation and hierarchical storage. To this we add the use of active topic links. These are a form of shortcuts that interact with the navigational system. Through scripting means classes of these links are created to perform appropiate actions. For example, a link can
  • Open a folder
  • Add more content to the link desktop
  • Change desktop
  • Open dedicated navigators such as active plexes, mindmaps, diagrams, or concept maps
  • Perform normal shortcuts actions, such as launch a program
  • perform scripts
  • and so forth
The second item is interesting here. When a user who has not bothered to organize his 'stuff' needs to find something related, she may not want to click on something and have the view change, as in, for example, theBrain. That is, see OTHER stuff. Instead, she may want to just see MORE stuff.
Thus, the desktop does not change, it just gets more stuff on it.
This follows more closely the real world desktop concept. We don't overturn our desk at work when we answer the phone, at least not intentionally.

To organized these collections of subwindows we use concepts from 'Elastic Windows' created at the HCIL.

Now we add the connectionist networks. Like an ATM machine, we add 'menu items' now links, along left and right edge of desktop. These are changed according to activity in the desktop (scripts or user interaction) and they are also limited to four plus or minus three items each.
More to follow...............

Have not had time to devote to this, started a new job recently, that keeps me very busy. However, until I get back into this, I will continue to add to the links below.

Distributive Information Mapping

     Any Information Mapping product or system must also address collaboration, distribution, replication, archiving, and mobility issues.

In addition, it should contribute to the ease of use of the developing technological ability of the formation of spontaneous collaborative communication communities, such as the web annotations, chat, and bulletin board systems.

diagram showing architecture and communication paths.
created with Inspiration 5.0, trial version.


     Visual Contextual Disambiguation, Education, Research, knowledge management, computer aided decision making, knowledge discovery,......?

Some resources
You'd think that a page on Information Mapping would have a better resource links table!
I'll upgrade this in time.  
My goal is to eventually move these links to a separate page that utilizes some XML schema and then just use an XSLT stylesheet to create the page. This will allow me to create more 'respectful' references.
Currently, each row is created using a simple Javascript function to lay out the three fields.


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Transportation ] Keys to the Universe ] Space ] Knowledge Management ] The Singularity ] Artificial Life ] Nanotechnology ] Technology ] Science ] Life Extension ] Brain Food ]

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