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The digital magazine of InfoVis.net

Customer Relatiosnhip Management (CRM) 2
by Juan C. Dürsteler [message n 165]

Last week we reviewed the cycle of customer relationship management (CRM) along with the aspects where information visualisation can contribute added value. In this issue we go deeper into some of those aspects.

Visualisation of search results .

This is one of the areas where the interest is most universal, not only because of its importance regarding CRM but also in the majority of the other fields. Quickly finding what is of our interest amongst the overwhelming amount of data and information available is one of the most important challenges we are facing in this digital era.

The usual search techniques consist of the introduction of a query in the form of key words or free language. Search algorithms typically return a long list of results with a higher or lower level of success depending on which search engine we are talking about. As we have seen already in other issues of this magazine there are different attempts to show the results in a visual way like Grokker, KartOO or Flamenco

Girafa.gif (217736 bytes) Girafa2.gif (102039 bytes)
Girafa: Search of the word "infovis" using Girafa's toolbar. To the left you can observe the miniature images of the results.
Source: Screenshot as it can be seen in Internet, by the author.
Click on the image to enlarge it
Girafa: Search of the word "infovis" using Girafa's technology demonstrator. At full screen you can see the results obtained along with their miniature views.
Source: Screenshot as it can be seen in Internet, by the author.
Click on the image to enlarge it

Among those that we haven't yet reviewed at Infovis.net we find Girafa, a visual tool that uses the lists that other search engines (like Google or Yahoo among many others in a long list) produce, in order to show said results as screenshots of the URLs returned by the query. Girafa provides a web service (in this case you have to pay) that generates the thumbnails and can be integrated with your web search engine. You can download a free demonstrator in the form of a toolbar for Internet Explorer that shows the images on the left hand side of the browser.

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3D Model Search Engine: Search for a shape in the form of a "T" when seen sideways and round when seen from above using Priceton University 3D search engine. It uses the three views drawn by the user with the mouse in order to find similar models.
Source: Screenshot as it can be seen in Internet, by the author.
Click on the image to enlarge it

A specially interesting case is the 3D Model Search Engine created by the Princeton Shape Retrieval and Analysis Group of Priceton University. This search engine has a database with 36,000 3D models. In order to find a particular shape you can operate in two mutually non-exclusive ways.

On one hand we have the typical textual keyword query, for example entering the word "umbrella" and on the other hand we can draw with the mouse three different approximate views (sketches) of the shape we are looking for. With them this powerful serach engine provides a series of matching shapes that correspond to all the models that accomplish in one way or another the drawings that served as specifications.

There are more initiatives regarding presentation of information retrieval that we will review in future issues. The important thing is that it appears to be clear that visualisation can add another dimension when we talk about finding the results that are relevant for us. In my opinion it's also clear that we are still a long way from having a widely accepted system with a powerful impact in the way we see the results of our search. But everything will come in its due time.

Presentation of product related information

When we visit a real world shop we have the opportunity to browse the shelves, touch and look at the products the way we want. We can even try out their funcionality. On the contrary in a virtual shop one of the main problems is that we can't touch and sometimes we can't even see the product we want to buy. The information is limited to some written data and maybe some photographs. 

Again visualisation has considerable potential in this field. Many e-commerce sites already incorporate images of the products seen from different angles. The most innovative ones use 3D visualisation techniques that allow you to see the product in 360º views covering all possible directions.

They typically use technologies like QTVR (Quick-Time Virtual Reality), VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) or other similar tools that represent virtual worlds. We have seen them in use for navigating virtual cities but it is probably in the presentation of products where you can get the best out of them. 

These 3D technologies, when applied to the Web, are generically called Web3D. There is a consortium to promote the use of these technologies called, in a glimpse of originality, the Web3D consortium. There also exists an ISO standard called X3D that defines a runtime system and a networked 3D application distribution mechanism compatible with the XML specifications.

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Virtue3D Room designer: In the image you can see a chair selected from a chair catalogue and then placed in the room. The white lines that surround the chair indicate that it is selected so that we can transfer and / or rotate it in order to properly place it according to our will.  
Source: Screenshot as it can be seen in Internet, by the author.
Click on the image to enlarge it
Virtue3D Room designer: The result of selecting and placing several pieces of furniture in the selected room. Mouse buttons allow the user to rotate and transfer the objects throughout the room.
Source: Screenshot as it can be seen in Internet, by the author.
Click on the image to enlarge it

An example of this is Virtue3D Room Designer, a web based application created by Virtue3D for the furniture industry that allows the user to see a 3D furniture catalogue, changing the perspective with which we see the selected item. We can zoom in or out as if it were very close or far away. We can also select a room from several different ones and then we can put different pieces of furniture by selecting them from the catalogue and then placing them into the room in the location and orientation that appears more suitable to our needs. 

Mouse buttons allow you to move within the room (left button) or look around you and zoom the view in or out (right button). The same scheme applies to a particular item once selected by clicking on top of it. An outline made of white lines appears and then the left button allows you to rotate it while the right one transfers it throughout the room.

Another, more pragmatic example since it's a website already in use, is Itacabox oriented mainly to interior decoration professionals wishing to have access to existing catalogues of the furniture market in order to design environments and decoration online that can then be shown in 3D to their customers. Interesting. Itacabox uses the Outline3d technology that enables the user to define the parameters of a house from a 2D scheme of the floor that is being constructed very easily. It also allows us to generate the rooms in 3D from the previously entered parameters so that you can add furniture with existing catalogue items that you can currently find on the market. Outline 3D uses the Cortona VRML client by Parallel graphics .

Another application of the use of this type of technology, mixed with traditional 2D photographs, is the visualszation of on-line homes in real estate firms like Bostad Uppsala that sells online houses with excellent graphic work that allows the potential buyer to get a very close to the real idea of the house he is looking for. 

BostadUppsala.gif (70747 bytes) DeerLodge.gif (176008 bytes)
Bostad Uppsala: Interior of one of the houses for sale in this Swedish real estate agency. The textual description is complemented with photographs of all the rooms,  3D diagrams and also has a 3D furniture selection system. 
Source: Screenshot as it can be seen in Internet, by the author.
Click on the image to enlarge it
DeerLodge Centre: Virtual Tour through the facilities of this health care center. In the lower right  window you can  see a 3D view of the rehabilitation room that shows it in 360º, and even looking at the ceiling or the ground by using the arrows that appear in the screen.  
: Screenshot as it can be seen in Internet, by the author.
Click on the image to enlarge it

Virtual tours give rise to the possibility of getting an idea of how the places you want to visit during a trip look like before contracting it. Systems where you can see the interior of a hotel, choose a restaurant or decide if it is worth visiting an old people's residence are beginning to become quite common in those types of entities.  In this sense we can consider the Deer Lodge Centre of Winnipeg,  Canada as a clear example. 

It is quite easy to find hotels in Internet offering virtual tours. Showhotel shows you what you can achieve by using streaming video, 360º panoramas or simple photo carrousels in order to choose and book a hotel room having the sensation of "having been there", but you can find a lot more in Internet

Next week we'll complete this series with the third and last issue about customer relationship management that will include online valuation, comparison and selection and the visualisation of online transactions

Links of this issue:

http://www.infovis.net/printFicha.php?rec=revista&num=138&lang=2   Num. 138 Grokker, or Visual Navigation
http://www.infovis.net/printFicha.php?rec=revista&num=97&lang=2   Num. 97 KartOO
http://www.infovis.net/printFicha.php?rec=revista&num=107&lang=2   Num. 107 Flamenco
http://www.girafa.com/   Girafa
http://shape.cs.princeton.edu/   Princeton University 3D shape search engine
http://www.infovis.net/printFicha.php?rec=revista&num=102&lang=2   Num. 102 Digital cities
http://www.web3d.org   The Web3D consortium
http://www.webrd.org/x3d/overview.html   The X3D standard
http://www.virtue3d.com   Virtue3D website
http://www.itacabox.com   Itaca Box website
http://www.outline3d.com   Outline3D Main page
http://www.parallelgraphics.com/products/cortona/   Cortona VRML engine by Parallel Graphics
http://www.parallelgraphics.com   Parallel Graphics website
http://www.erasweden.com/uppsala/erabostaduppsala/   Bostad Uppsala
http://www.deerlodge.mb.ca   Deer Lodge health care center
http://showhotel.com   ShowHotel website
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