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The digital magazine of InfoVis.net

Two years later
by Juan C. DĂĽrsteler [message nş 93]

Two years ago Inf@Vis’ trip through the sea of Information Visualisation began. Since then the discipline has evolved slowly but steadily. There’s still a long journey in front of us before it becomes part of our everyday life.

It was exactly the 1st of July of 2002 when Infovis.net was born as an experience in order to gather the state of the art on Information Visualisation.


The basic idea was to store the Information by means of a web site, sharing with some friends (that were bold enough to subscribe), on a weekly basis, the results of my avid readings on the topic complemented with windy searches through the Net and a little research at the University.

To my surprise subscription grew beyond my most optimistic guesses. Currently there are more than 1000 people directly subscribed to InfoVis.net and around 4100 through the space “Applied Infonomics"  that, thanks to the invitation of Alfons Cornella, holds my mental digressions each week.


Two years of Internet is a long time, maybe enough to stop and think about what has changed in Information Visualisation and what remains the same. 

Jus two years ago the Internet bubble was still blossoming and in the meetings with infopreneurs all seemed possible. The bubble, nevertheless, was already beginning to tremble, ready to burst some months later.


Some interesting companies began to appear, like Cartia, that was promoting the extraordinary website newsmaps.com. The snapshots of this website are today, once passed on, venerable museum images. Now part of Aurigin the ThemeScape technology became a tool of the consulting firm that closed newsmaps. 

Inxight, a Xerox spin-off, was trying to gain market share with innovative visualisation and data structuring technologies. Visual Insights was focusing on business visualisation, using less daring graphics that are better accepted by the public. 

Summarising, most of the visualisation technologies that are still alive have been sheltered in consulting firms, associated to other tools, disguised as tailored solutions of knowledge managements or other buzzwords like e-business. Innovative graphics haven’t arrived to the public yet, still not used to its interpretation, not always simple.

NewsMapFinancial.gif (414570 bytes) MagniFind.gif (12902 bytes) ebizlive.gif (28583 bytes)
Newsmaps.com. Screenshot of the defuct website. Inxight.com its hyperbolic geometry browser demo. Visual Insights Screenshot of its product eBizLive.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

The 3D Adventure

During this time many attempts to represent cyberspace as a virtual 3D world, similar to the real one, have taken place. Experiments like Vios.com lasted less than a candy at the school door. PlanetOasis has changed its strategy completely , abandoning the 3D decoration. Adobe Atmosphere is still in Beta Test more than one year after its launch and the latest version is dated from last December. 3D and virtual worlds haven’t caught up in InfoVis. 

ViosInicio.jpg (21329 bytes)
Vios.com. Screenshot of the (also) disappeared website. Click on the image to enlarge it. Adobe Atmosphere One of the possible worlds Adobe Atmosphere Screenshot of the appearance of another of its virtual worlds


Meanwhile creativity has blossomed in experiences like Ben Shneiderman’s Treemaps that SmartMoney has popularised with its powerful “Map of the Market”. The same can be said of Anemone, the ingenuous way of looking at the visits of a web site by Ben Fry. Maybe one of the most beautiful, intuitive and elegant representation is PeopleGarden by Rebecca Xiong and Judith Donath  that shows social interaction in a communication environment by means of flowers placed in the garden of communication.

SmartMoney.gif (71439 bytes) AnemoneBFry.jpg (97274 bytes) PeopGrdn4.gif (70553 bytes)
SmartMoney.com. Image of "Map of the Market. Anemone by Ben Fry PeopleGarden  by Rebecca Xiong and Judith Donath.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

In the end, Information Visualisation is still lacking a solid theory supporting its development. The most advanced visualisations are restricted to more or less specialised consulting firms and in order to reach the mass public the chasm that separates visionary creators from pragmatists able to massively commercialise their creations has to be crossed. All this not forgetting that we are used to a very modest inventory of graphical tools and representations.

But this is a field that is incessantly innovating, showing an enormous creativity, and that holds the will to make the data avalanche that the technology pours onto us more understandable. Every day it plays an increasingly important role in the field of communication and discovery. We still have a lot to see…

There are two key elements that avoid InfoVis.net resembling a black hole within a tunnel. 

  • One of them is all of you that support this intellectual endeavour by reading the newsletter and making the number of served pages of the web site increase every month. Without you what is done here would be completely useless. 

  • On the other hand, the physical support of the Institut Universitari del Audiovisual, (IUA) at the Universtitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona that hosts the web site and the newsletter means that every week, every minute, during the whole year, the web can be accessible. 

Many thanks, indeed.

Links of this issue:

http://www.iua.upf.es   Institut Universitari del Audiovisual
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