Constraints and Possibilities
- / -
Annex 7 of Visualization
of International Relationship Networks
(a) Conventional approach:
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 into categories.
(b) Hypertext approach:
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 manner.
For example, the current Yearbook of International Organizations (1990/91)
covering 26,656 entries indicates 65,175 relationships between them (with
the major organizations having an average of 70 each) and with a further
192,552 links to membership countries. Similarly the Encyclopedia of World
Problems and Human Potantial (1991), covers 13,167 world problems with
80,394 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 with the possibility of CD/ROM versions.
(c) User need for "maps":
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.
(d) Editorial need for a graphic inrterface:
In preparing such publications,
editorial researchers need to be able to graphically represent the networks
of relationships they are endeavouring to clarify. This is in part strongly
related to mind-mapping. Without such a tool, editors have to produce extensive
mind maps in manual form before building up or modifying the network of
relationships. Ideally it should be possible to communicate such maps to
key resource people to obtain insights which are not so easily indicated
in normal text presentations.
Interesting examples of such graph displays, prepared manually, do exist.
They include the route maps of the ABC World Airways Guide
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.
(e) Existing techniques:
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.
A number of software pacakges have been developed, especially for Apple
machines, which go some of the way towards the product required. These
include MORE and INSPIRATION. The disadvantage of these products is that
they have primarily been designed to wor around a core concept (a "main
idea") which is the point of departure for a hierarchical structure.
This does not correspond to the essentially non-hierarchical presentation
(f) Atlas production:
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".
Maps would be designed to cover clusters of organizations and/or problems
in a given subject or geographical area. They 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 distributed as wall-charts.