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by Juan C. Dürsteler [message nº 160]

Newsmap is an online application that uses the Treemap technology to visualise the Google news aggregator's most relevant news. It's now possible to get an idea of what's happening throughout the world at a glance.

Do you remember a website called newsmaps.com that disappeared around February 2002? Newsmaps was able to automatically organise collections of documents basing itself on the information that they contained. The result was visualised by means of a terrain map where the elevations corresponded to the most relevant words or items. 

Newsmaps was based on technology developed years before at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory  called ThemeScape. Newsmaps gathered the most important news and distributed them in an attractive “topographic” map that you could interactively explore. You could find out what the world was talking about just at a glance. 

Newsmaps.jpg (62475 bytes) Newsmap2.gif (389799 bytes)
Newsmaps.com page  on 1999-03-29. You can see some results obtained by querying the keyword "Microsoft" (blue circles). The topographic map depicts the most relevant terms of the search as mountains.
Source:  Infotoday Archives
Click on the image to enlarge it
Newsmap page on 2005-01-16, 12:16 with the news from all the countries activated
Source: Screenshot as it can be seen in Newsmap
Click on the image to enlarge it

Newsmaps, originally a product of Cartia.Inc was acquired by Aurigin, that changed the name of the product to Aureka. Currently it's used by Micropatents under the same name for exploring textual spaces built up of patents.

A similar idea was put into practice on March 30th 2004 also with a similar name. Newsmap is an on-line application that presents the most relevant news of the moment, extracted from the Google news aggregator. The technology that newsmap uses is none other than the well known treemaps (see articles 51 and 52). 

Newsmap visually codes each piece of news using several visual variables.

  • Colour: different news sections use different basic colours. For example, green is reserved for technology and blue for business. Most recent news exhibits brighter colours while older ones appear darker. 

  • Shape: each piece of news is shown within a rectangle, as is customary in treemaps. 

  • Size: The size of the rectangle is proportional to the relevance of the news.

  • Finally each piece of news is expressed textually as a clearly legible headline, particularly if the news is important and recent. In that case characters are big, since the size of the rectangle allows for it, and the colour is saturated accordingly to the age of the news.

Newsmap retains another of the most searched for qualities in information visualisation, that is embracing the focus of our attention without losing the context (seeing both the forest and the trees simultaneously or, more technically speaking, focus + context).

NewsmapES.gif (295771 bytes) Newsmap.gif (273929 bytes)
Newsmap filtered for Spain
Source: Screenshot as it can be seen in Newsmap
Click on the image to enlarge it
Newsmap filtered for USA
: Screenshot as it can be seen in Newsmap
Click on the image to enlarge it

On the other hand, it's possible to filter the news by country so that you can see the aggregate of all of them or just the result generated in one country, for example USA or any of the 10 countries present. It's also possible to filter the news by its typology, for example searching for technological news in all or only in some of the countries.

NewsMap: The different categories available. Notice the different colours and saturation of the same according to their age. 
Source: Screenshot as it can be seen in Newsmap

Newsmap, that has won the Netvision 2004 award of Ars Electronica comes from the hard work of Marcos Weskamp and Dan Albritton whose objective is “to simply demonstrate visually the relationships between data and the unseen patterns in news media. It is not thought to display an unbiased view of the news, on the contrary it is thought to ironically accentuate the bias of it” (see the explanation at the web).

Newsmaps and Newsmap are two attractive and possibly efficient ways (I don't know of any usability studies on them) of news visualisation or, for that matter, document visualisation. Their underlying technologies are well differentiated: ThemeScape and Treemaps, but the final result is a quick and intuitive exploration of the document space.

Newsmap is an example of the power of visualisation and shows how relatively simple technology can significantly contribute to easing the digestion of the cataract of information that falls on us daily.

Links of this issue:

http://www.pnl.gov/news/1995/nws95-07.htm   PNNL article about ThemeScape
http://www.infotoday.com/newsbreaks/nb0426-1.htm   Image of the old newsmaps.com appeared in Infotoday
http://www.aurigin.com/static/advanced.htm   Themescape at Micropatents
http://www.marumushi.com/apps/newsmap/newsmap.cfm   Newsmap's website at marumushi.com
http://news.google.com/   Google news
http://www.infovis.net/printMag.php?num=51&lang=2   Issue 51 Treemaps
http://www.infovis.net/printMag.php?num=52&lang=2   Issue 52 The Evolution of Treemaps
http://www.aec.at/en/prix/awards2004.asp   Ars Electronica awards
http://marcosweskamp.marumushi.com/   Marcos Weskamp's web page
http://www.danalbritton.com/   Dan Albritton's web page
http://www.marumushi.com/apps/newsmap/index.cfm   Newsmap's explanation
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