Visualization - Alternative Representations of Information

Interactive Hyperlink Map: Auto-Generated, Self-Organizing Link Visualization

This page introduces and explains the applet-based visualization experiments used as interfaces to the databases of the Union of International Associations.

The maps are generated under user control via There are several pages from which a map may be (re)generated:

  • From the search screen, after specifying a keyword (for example "forests" for the database World Problems), and clicking on the map logo against display choice.
  • From an index listing, after running a search (for example "forests" for the database World Problems), and clicking on the map logo at the top of the listing
  • From a text profile, after running a search and selecting a profile for display (for example "forests" for the database World Problems, then click on "deforestation"), and then click on the map logo against any of the lists of cross-references of different types

The purposes of these self-organizing displays are to create a visual index to show the complexity of relationships between (data) profiles and reveal the data rich domains. The maps are generated directly from the data in response to user requests. Each display is dynamic and continues to organize itself in response to user constraints applied via the mouse. Further improvements to the display are under development in order to offer new insights into the data.

Unsatisfactory displays

You may experience a variety of problems until you are familiar with this experimental tool:

  • In many cases these are due to the number of items requested -- try a smaller selection -- especially if you cause a "server error" or "Applet will not start error"!
  • Sometimes the mouse functions do not work -- try restarting your browser (or reboot to reinitialize the applet). Applets can be unpredictable.
  • Other errors may be due to defects in the data -- we are working on them!
  • Very simple (boring) map, or "No links" to map -- try other keyword(s).
  • Display is too dynamic. If it remains unstable after giving it time to settle, then try switching to a smaller selection of nodes.

Unusual displays

Some of the displays are exceptionally elegant -- despite the content. Examples include:

DatabaseKeywordsProfileRelationship typeMax #Scale
World problemsdiscrimination womenDiscrimination against womenNarrower40025%
World problemspovertyRural povertyAggravated by35025%
StrategiesunemploymentReducing unemploymentFacilitated by35025%
StrategiespermacultureUsing permacultureBroader30050%
Strategiesair pollutionReducing air pollutionFacilitated by30025%

Manipulating the map: what you can do with the mouse

You can manipulate the display in a variety of ways using the mouse:

  • Temporary label display: Move the cursor over any node and the profile names of all immediately connected nodes will appear temporarily. Tip: if too many are displayed to see a central node label, put the cursor over any node that is only connected to that central node.
  • Permanent label display: Move the cursor over a selected node and do ctrl-right-click. You can hide the label by repeating the procedure
  • Moving parts of the display: Drag any node to a new position (with the left mouse button); it will stick their temporarily
  • Fixing a node in a new position: After moving, use a right-click to fix the node position. The node should change colour. Release it from that position by repeating the procedure (right-click on the node). You can move all the parts into a new configuration which you find meaningful. Note: when you have completed this procedure, consider taking a screen shot for use elsewhere (notably in PowerPoint type displays)
  • Display text profile: From any node you can access the corresponding descriptive text profile in the database from which the map was generated. Use shift with left-click and a new browser window will be opened. Exit it to return.
  • Display a related map: From any node you can generate a new map based on that node. It is generated in a new brower window. Exit it to return. The map can therefore be used as a visual index. (We are working on ways that you can save a map, after you have manipulated it, and use it as your personal index to our database)
  • Use the mouse on the control panel on the left to:
    • Hide or show directional arrows (we are working to improve the signficance of the arrow display)
    • Hide or show icons (we are planning to associate icons with nodes of particular significance)
    • Sounds are gnerated by using mouseover particular icons (we are planning on associating sounds of greater mnemonic significance with particular nodes -- signature tunes?)
    • Link type labels can be displayed if desired (a feature only of use in the future, since the display currently is for a single type of relationship anyway)
    • Change background: Switch the background for a different impression

Redefining map properties

Below the map display is a range of facilities with which you can experiment. If you do not like the colours, scale, background, line thickness or complexity -- then try changing them:

  • Select maximum number of items displayed: You can have simpler maps, or more complex (if there is data to display). Note that the applet has a size limit which we hope to increase. The top line indicates how much the applet has been able to process. If you choose too high a figure, the data may cause the applet to crash.
  • Zooming: You can increase the size of the map, effectively moving in. The default is set at 25% which gives a better overview. We aim to improve this feature
  • Line colour / thickness: The line colours and thickness can be changed using the pull down menus. Both these features are associated with "rings". The first ring includes the nodes directly connected to the source node (or node cluster). The second ring includes those linked to the first ring, etc. If you are exploring hierarchical relationships, each ring may be one step down the hierarchy (in the case of "narrower" type relationships) or up the hierarchy (in the case of "broader" type relationships)
  • Some other defaults:
    • Background: Can be set to black or white. Tip: try choosing a line colour as black or white and then toggling between the two backgrounds to show and hide particular types of relationship
    • Icons: These can be set on or off.
    • Sounds: These can be set to play or not.

Selecting other relationship types

There are three possibilities:

  • Same database / Same starting point: You can also force the map to be regenerated using a different set of relationships (if there are any in the data). Check the corresponding check profile if you are unsure whether the starting point will be fruitful.
  • Different database / Same starting point: If the map was generated directly from a keyword search, you will be able to switch it to generation from another database using the same keywords.
  • Same database / Different starting point: As in the previous case, but you can change the set of keywords, effectively allowing you to use the map display as a search interface.

The applet was developed by Gerald de Jong of Beautiful Code.