Atlas of International Relationship Networks
Summary of a project of the Union of International Associations
- / -
Annex 1 of Reordering
Networks of Incommensurable Concepts in Phased Cycles
and their comprehension through metaphor
[project presented in searchable PDF version and a later form:
Visualizing Relationshp Networks International. Interdisciplinary, Inter-Sectorial, 1992]
1. This document is concerned with
presentations of information which will be possible once a particular computer
software problem has been adequately solved. The problem can be illustrated by
(a) Traffic network mapping: If a database contained entries on 300 subway
stations (or airports, or bus stops) and their direct route links to one another,
what is required is a software package to construct one or more possible maps
of the resulting network. The important point is to be able to optimize the
comprehensibility of such maps with minimum manual intervention in the construction
(b) Hypercard stack mapping: With the widely acclaimed introduction of the
Apple hypercard, whereby complex networks of relationships between database
records can be handled, the problem remains of mapping the pattern of relationships
in the resulting hypercard stack. The individual entries may be said to constitute
'data', but it is the pattern of relationships between them which
constitutes 'knowledge' and 'intelligence'
2. The conventional approach to databases, and to the reference books produced
from them, is to focus on individual entries. The user is not assisted in understanding
the relationships between entries, other than by fairly crude grouping of entries
3. With the development of interactive databases, hypertext (plus the new
hypercard approach of Apple) and CD/ROM, data entries can be organized so that
they cross-reference one another to a high degree and in a non-hierarchical
For example, the current Yearbook
of International Organizations (1987/88) covering 27145 entries indicates
32692 relationships between them -- with the major organizations having an average
of 70 each. Similarly the complemetary volume, the Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential (1986), covers 10233 world problems
with 17636 relationships between them. Users can move from entry to entry without
going via an index. In database terms this is a major step towards what is being
called hypertext. Both publications are maintained on a computer network and
the possibility of CD/ROM versions is being investigated.
4. Because of the overwhelming volume of data, users need 'maps'
of the pathway between entries, especially in complex subject areas. Such maps
provide a sense of context which is lost in many hierarchical presentations
of data in linear text form. It is only from such maps that users can quickly
obtain an adequate overview of data in an unfamiliar area to guide their efficient
use of conventional information tools. Such maps are of value precisely because
they are richer than simple hierarchically structured thesauri.
5. Interesting examples of such graph displays are presented as annexes to
this document. They include the route maps of the ABC World Airways Guide,
the concept maps in the Encyclopedia Universalis and the graphics displays
used in the UNESCO SPINES Thesaurus for science policy and management.
These are all hand drawn and based on relatively limited data sets. As such
they are costly and difficult to modify. They do however illustrate different
responses to a need felt by information users. The same may be said of networks
of corporations grouped by holding companies -- as they are occasionally, and
painstakingly, presented in the financial press.
6. Computer hardware and sofware for the construction and manipulation of
such networks of relationships have only been developed for specific applications
such as in chemistry, architecture and engineering (CAD), or electronic circuit
board design (PCB). It would be possible to develop similar software to display
relationships between database entries, but this would involve investments in
excess of $100,000. This is presumably excessive before the nature and advantages
of the final product can be demonstrated.
7. Once such maps can be succesfully produced and manipulated, computer tapes
can be made to drive photocomposition machines (with vector generators). These
make high quality maps. Alternatively such maps could be generated by standard
graph plotters into camera-ready form. A series of such maps, with facing explanatory
text and/or mini-index, may then be bound together as an 'atlas'.
8. As a complement to the Yearbook
of International Organizations and the Encyclopedia,
such an atlas might take the form of a 600 page A4 publication: 250 maps, 250
facing explanatory pages, 100 pages general index, prelims and comments. The
cost of producing the first version might be reduced by generating the maps
in-house as has been done in the case of organization charts in the current
edition of the Yearbook.
9. Maps would be designed to cover clusters of organizations and/or problems
in a given subject or geographical area.
10. Such maps would have the advantage of provoking input of new organizations
and/or relationships when used in the form of proofs. They also have important
didactic uses. Enlargements of the maps could also be sold as wall-charts which
would be of value for promotional purposes.
11. The accompanying annexes give further details of different approaches
to this problem. However at this stage it should be stressed that the most effective
approach would be through the use of pre-existing software with whatever constraints