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Vios is born, Newsmaps is dead.
by Juan C. Dürsteler [message nº 36]

While examples of good Information Visualization disappear, other visualization proposals like Vios and Adobe Atmosphere see the light.

Newsmaps.com has disappeared from (it's worth saying) the map. This interesting web site was one of the exponents of what Information visualization can do. The maps that newsmaps served were based on the ThemeScape technology. 

In fact newsmaps was a public showcase for this technology, that Cartia commercialised as a solution for the treatment of large textual volumes. You can still see the aspect that this technology had (has) at the address http://www.aurigin.com/aureka.html#themescape .

The acquisition of Cartia by Aurigin last February has allowed this company to add ThemeScape to its catalogue of commercial solutions. Probably this finished newsmaps altogether since although still reachable, it wasn't receiving updates during the last months.

But some web sites disappear and others just do appear. This is the case of Vios, which we spoke about in issue number15. Its launch had been postponed since October last year, but finally it saw the light just about two weeks ago.

Vios is an independent program that substitutes the traditional browser. It occupies 75 Mbytes that you can download or you can ask them to send you a free CD-ROM. Once installed we enter into a virtual environment similar to that of AlphaWorld that we spoke about in issue number_20. You can choose an avatar that you can see walking (or flying) through a nice world with canyons, rivers and mountains in which there are some places populated by structures that let you enter into certain web sites.

This world is divided into thematic sectors and zones that contain the webs sites that have reserved their space there. But when we click on one of them the magic disappears and we see the web page we are used to. When we move from one world to another we ascend to the sky and fly through the clouds until the information has been downloaded. 

The idea is aesthetically pleasing and it seems that by moving in a world with recognisable landmarks, like volcanoes, helps us to remember the places of interest. But, is it really effective? Despite the revolution that their advertising sells, I don't think so. It will be difficult while the web sites still appear as web pages after all.

But something has to have the idea when Adobe decided to enter a similar business with its Atmosphere  browser. This is a plug in (5.5 Mbytes) for IE still in beta testing. The difference is that Adobe also has a tool to make your own 3D worlds. Some of them are available (I'm in debt with Cesar Martin for this link). 

The idea is that instead of making traditional web pages you build a 3D world that you can navigate in the same intuitive way you do in the real world. The contents and links can be placed using traditional HTML, but the appearance is consistent with the 3D world paradigm. You need the Atmosphere browser to see the worlds made with this technology.

This idea appears more interesting because, if it is able to spread itself throughout the market, it really is a total change. Nevertheless at this moment it's at a very early stage. Moving through the current Atmosphere world is quite limited and boring. The avatars, which you can communicate with, are quite ugly and static. None of the links that I followed led me to an interesting world.

The most important thing remains to be seen. Is it really of use to the user to move through a 3D world instead of through the traditional web page?. Probably navigating through a 3D world is more intuitive and easy to remember. The visual experience is (or can be) also richer. However the attention that designers must pay to the design of the container is even greater than in the traditional web. It's even more dangerous to forget the contents for the sake of the container.

Adobe and Vios face the need to demonstrate that their proposals are something more than a pleasant video game or visual experience. They have to show that they can provide the users with enhanced functionality and an easier access to their needs.

The proposal is attractive and, to some extent, innovative. Time will tell if this idea will be able to impose itself on the traditional way of moving through the web.

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