Visualizing the web
Although web technologies are constantly changing, most users still browse the web the same way they did back in 1995–typing keywords into search boxes, clicking from home page, to section, to subsection on a navigation bar, or following link, to link, to link. The fact that it is called a “web” suggests that there should be other ways of navigating websites, and there are a number of projects attempting to employ information visualizations and spatial maps to do so.
All web pages organize information visually, but “information visualization centers around helping people explore or explain data that is not inherently spatial, such as that from the domains of bioinformatics, data mining and databases, finance and commerce, telecommunications and networking, information retrieval from large text corpora, software, and computer-supported cooperative work.” (“InfoVis 2003 Symposium”) Spatial metaphors are used to communicate different levels of information. A simple, static example would be a personal homepage built to look like the designers home, with links to favorite movies in the living room and recipes in the kitchen. A more advanced example would be a customer relationship management system for a large company which instead of presenting a list of technical support problems and solutions, displays an interactive map of problems, with more common problems in a larger font size, and recent problems in red. In both cases, users get an immediate grasp of complex information.
Such visualizations are intended to help solve two current web usability problems: the lack of a wide view to web structure, and the lack of query refinement based on relationships of retrieved pages (Ohwada 548). But they must do so without creating additional usability barriers. This paper will describe three current information visualization projects and describe some of the usability issues these sorts of projects face.