Ecolynx Project: Information Context for Biodiversity Conservation

Visualization (VRML 3-D displays)

At issue was whether 3-D displays could be generated from UIA databases to produce files readable virtual reality (VRML) environments through standard browser plug-ins (such as Live-3D on Netscape). During the Definition Phase, techniques were developed to convert clusters of hyperlinked entities from the UIA databases into 3-D structural configurations via Web browsers. The networked relationship structures able to be displayed include problem loops and multiple loop interlocks, and clusters of interrelated organizations. These experimental structures have been placed on the UIA website to evoke comment from potential users.

Over 50 displays were generated using VRML 1.0. The experiments explored several display metaphors: intersecting polygons, networks, tagging polygons forming a sphere, and a solar system. Techniques demonstrated include: colour tagging diverse elements, multiple complexes in the same display (different relative coordinate systems), insertion of lines linking common elements in different complexes of a display (between different relative coordinate systems), representation of complex networks, use of parameters to regulate size of display elements according to measures of importance, hyperlinking to explanatory local htm text and to external websites. The results suggest interesting new ways of looking at environmental problems and institutional complexes (including the UN, the World Bank and the European Union institutions).

Constraints encountered were the labelling facilities within VRML 1.0, the size of files relative to the complexity to be displayed, and browser speed on lower capacity machines. It is expected that these may be overcome or avoided using VRML 2.0 (since released), different file generation techniques in Revelation (in which the original data is resident), and the use of faster machines (150-166 instead of 100-120 MHz) that are now standard. However, there appears to be no restraint on providing hyperlinks between a multiplicity of such generated virtual displays.