Visualization - Alternative Representations of Information

Experiments in Multi-Media Visualizations

Displaying complexes of problems, strategies, values and organizations

The UIA is faced with a major challenge of how to provide greater insight into complex networks of relationships amongst international organizations, world problems, strategies in response to them, human development and human values.

The multi-media experiments described below are seen in part as the exploration of visual metaphor to offer new insights and improve comprehension of these complex systems. Experiments with sound are in part based on the recognition that in the search for harmony in global society, there is some merit in exploring the extensive and well-articulated understandings of musical harmony.

Extensive databases are maintained on each of these sets of entities. There are (hyper)links between the entities in each set, and between entities in different sets. In the online form of these databases, users have access to several different kinds of on-going experiment (click on the titles to view details):

Network mapping facility

Relationships are presented as lines between nodes. The nodes provide hyperlink access to text profiles or further maps. All the displays are generated directly in response to user request, by clicking on the map logo, and are self-organizing. The highly dynamic map displays can be radically manipulated and reconfigured by the user. The display technique is based on a Java applet developed by Gerald de Jong (Beautiful Code BV). A three-minute movie demonstrating the possibilities of the spring map technique in relation to the UIA databases has been prepared as part of UIA's project Ecolynx funded by the European Commission's Info2000 Programme (1997-2000). It can be accessed in either QuickTime (highest quality) or RealAudio format via the Ecolynx website. For a detailed explanation of how to use the maps, see Interactive Hyperlink Map. Further presentations are available by visiting the Gallery of network visualizations.


Based on the assertion that humans respond to graphical patterns up to one thousand times faster than numeric or character sets, NetMap takes data from one or more sources, identifies any associations between data elements, and turns the entire data set into a colour coded graphical "map" of data inter-relationships. This allows the user to analyse visual representations of the data relationships starting with a holistic, yet drillable view. Watch a promotional movie demonstrating the use of NetMap or see results of NetMap analysis of some of the UIA databases in the slide show below:


This experiment is an effort to make use of a somewhat unique tensegrity structure displayed through virtual reality (viewable through freely available browser plug-ins). Individual entities (eg problems or strategies) are associated with the struts in such a structure. The aim being to produce a coherent configuration that a user can rotate and explore using the virtual reality plug-in navigational tools. So the structure can be turned, zoomed into, etc. In priciple clicking on an active strut with which a problem (say) is associated will bring up the corresponding text profile. A commentary on the value of this technique is given at Configuring strategic dilemmas in inter-sectoral dialogue.


Through this experiment, software selects a polyhedron onto which relationships from a problem (say) are projected. Each facet thus becomes the interface to another problem. The polyhedron as a whole is thus a configuration of facets representing the problem as it interfaces with related problems. Clicking on the facets should bring up the corresponding text profile. This experiment is based on a similar justification to that based on tensegrity. In the current version, the selection of polyhedron is crude and the colouring is random. The virtual reality browser enables the user to manipulate and explore the structure.


This is a development of the previous experiment in which the user can endeavour to control the way in which the software selects and designs the polyhedron. The user is free to include or exclude particular types of relationship and to colour the corresponding facets differently, as well as selecting a preferred shape. Again clicking on a facet should bring up the text profile. The virtual reality browser enables the user to manipulate and explore the structure.

Note: Users may experience some difficulty and frustration in getting virtual reality browser plug-ins to work correctly. The experiments were done using the earlier (simpler) version of the VRML language (version 1), whereas current browsers work with the later version (version 2).

Additional information

Using VRML for Overview of World Problems goes into more technical detail about the application of VRML software to mapping networks generated from research associated with the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential. See also Multimedia design tips & tricks.

Academic articles about visualization written by Anthony Judge:

Links to relevant external resources: