|InfoVis.net>Magazine>message nş 138||Published 2004-01-19|
|También disponible en Espańol|
The digital magazine of InfoVis.net
For a long time we have been wondering if Internet browsing will continue obviating visualisation, delivering endless lists of results that we have to individually consider. We have already spoken about the attempts to make browsing and searching a friendlier activity, easing the navigation through Internet and through the mountains of information that fall daily on our shoulders (see in the archive numbers 24, 47, 48, 51, 52, 55, 70).
Recently the efforts have evolved to include more sophisticated elements. One of the examples, following the thread of the last articles about graphs, is TouchGraph LLC a Java plug-in for Google that builds, from a primary link, the network of the relevant links to it. An interesting tool, somewhat in â€śĂˇ la KarTOOâ€ť (which we spoke about in number 97) style, with less colour and possibly a more â€śacademicâ€ť look.
With a different philosophy and a much friendlier look comes Grokker, a meta searcher and browser produced by Groxis, that allows you to dive into the information in a visual form with a different metaphor. It can be downloaded for a free trial period of 30 days.
Unlike other similar systems, Grokker isnâ€™t a plug-in or a website that produces graphical output. Itâ€™s a program that is installed in your computer and acts as an alternative to the usual browser. Grokker has a series of options that allow us (at this moment) to classify and visualise information from
In the near future they are working to complement them with the Library of Congress, Google and a series of plug-ins.
As in any search engine, you can enter a line of text expressing what we are looking for. Grokker searches for it, organises the output into categories and shows it visually in one out of two main spaces in which it divides its window. In the other one it shows, like a normal browser, the specific pages that you reach by diving in the visual metaphor of the other one.
The visual metaphor that Grokker uses is circular and recursive. The search space is presented as a circle that occupies the maximum area that its window has. The search results are grouped into categories that Grokker derives automatically from the results. Each main category appears then as a circle itself within the larger one.Â
Again within these circles new ones appear that pertain to subcategories. This schema continues until individual pages or items are found. The latter are presented as rectangles instead of circles and you can access them by clicking on them. The size of the circles is proportional to the amount of information they contain. Thereâ€™s also the possibility to show nested squares instead of nested circles.
One of the keys of Grokker is its automatic classification algorithm that extracts the categories and subcategories. In this sense itâ€™s not so different from VivĂsimo, a tool that instead of representing the categories in visual form, produces a hierarchy and shows it like the Windows Explorer, as an unfolding tree.Â
The point that differentiates them is the visualisation, classical in one case, more risky in the latter since the cluster of nested circles is at least infrequent. The visual proposal of Grokker is elegant and consistent. Each circle appears in a colour that can be codified by the user, for example in function of the age of the information or the price or ranking of a book if we are diving into amazon.com.
It has a series of filters that reduce the amount of information shown. There are basically four types:
Deciding whether Grokker TouchGraph, KarTOO, VivĂsimo or whichever other existing alternatives to searching and browsing will turn themselves into standards, sending the current browsers to the museum, is certainly risky and uncertain. Nevertheless, thereâ€™s a fact that appears very clear to me: increasingly more solid and useful alternatives are beginning to appear, that are based on consistent visual metaphors that employ diverse complementary techniques that gather into one powerful and versatile tool.Â
Few of them resist the temptation to call themselves â€śthe Revolutionâ€ť. But, although they are, in reality, the natural evolution of a series of existing developments, they are probably settling the foundations of what, no doubt, will be an easier and more intuitive search, a visual reference like Google is now a textual one.
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