Visualization - Alternative Representations of Information

Using VRML for an Overview of World Problems

VRML browser plug-in: In order to be able to view both live and pre-generated VRML scenes, you have to install Cortona VRML Client that seamlessly plugs into your browser (be it Internet Explorer or Netscape). As many demos are based on VRML 1.0 standard, you will also need to install Cortona VRML 1.0 Converter.

Displays of vicious problem loops

This page introduces several experimental VRML displays available at:

  1. vrml25.wrl (30 kb) -- multiple
  2. vrml26.wrl (10kb) -- simple, single colour
  3. vrml27.wrl (10 kb) -- simple single colour
  4. vrml52.wrl (22 kb) -- multiple, multicolour, linked to demo
  5. vrml57.wrl (40 kb) -- multiple, multicolour, with connecting lines, linked to demo

The first of these groups 7 sets of interlocking "vicious problem loops". Numbers 2 and 3 group 2 each. Number 4 displays several sets with each loop in a set coloured differently. Number 5 introduces lines between diferent interlocking sets where the same problem occurs in different loop interlocks. These are generated from the world problems data in the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential.

Each vicious loop has a sequence of from three to five problems aggravating each other in a cycle. Each interlock cluster depicts intersections between such cycles, usually three.

You can place the cursor on individual problems (spheres) in each cluster and the name of the problem will appear (with its identifier in the UIA database). Some spheres are coloured red, you can click on any of these and you will be taken into the corresponding explanatory text in the UIA demo on this website.

Displays of interconnected international organizations

As a very first experiment in displaying information on networks of organizations profiled in the Yearbook of International Organizations, we have generated the following:

A series based on the contacts between between 50 and 100 international NGOs in relationship with UNESCO (omitting the contact with UNESCO itself):

  1. vrml58.wrl (46 kb) -- white background
  2. vrml60.wrl (59 kb) -- green background
  3. vrml61.wrl (60 kb) -- blue background
  4. vrml62.wrl (60 kb) -- yellow background
  5. vrml64.wrl (51 kb) -- green (dense network)

Some first experiments in displaying direct institutional connections of major organizations:

  1. vrml67.wrl (47 kb) -- black background -- "fountain" (United Nations)
  2. vrml81.wrl (61 kb) -- blue background -- sphere (United Nations)
  3. vrml82.wrl (61 kb) -- blue background -- sphere (European Community)

In #81 and #82, clicking on panels with a ">" in the name should take you direct to the named organization's website. Even in their initial form, these approaches suggest many new possibilities which we will proceed to explore.

A further series of experiments towards a "solar system" model of major institutions:

  1. vrml100.wrl (10 kb) -- unclickable -- (United Nations)
  2. vrml101.wrl (61 kb) -- clickable, merged (United Nations)
  3. vrml102.wrl (61 kb) -- clickable, dispersed (United Nations)
  4. vrml103.wrl (61 kb) -- clickable, compromise (United Nations)
  5. vrml107.wrl (29 kb) -- clickable (World Bank Group)

Initiating a new series of experiments (Dec 1997), we have started with a spiral metaphor:

  1. vrml108.wrl (36 kb) -- clickable (United Nations)

We will post new displays here as seems appropriate. At this point we should emphasize that we are only exploring techniques, rather than ensuring the best solution in any particular case, or ensuring a full display of relevant data. For this reason some of the additional features noted below, may or may not be operational in a particular display.

VRML 2.0 An indication of the possibility with the VRML 2.0 standard is given by one experiment:

  1. dyna22.wrl (44 kb) -- Presentation of clickable problem loops


The above structures were generated by program directly from our database on world problems. This means that items have not been positioned by manually -- which also means that many can be quickly regenerated. Example #5 seems to indicate a bug, either in our VRML source code or in our Live3D browser. We cannot get the double lines to be drawn as single lines -- any comments?

We are currently improving the quality of the data with regard to vicious problem loops as a means of shifting the level of analysis from individual problems to cycles of problems which may offer more significant opportunities for strategic action.

Much of the data produced by the UIA from information supplied by international organizations profiled in its Yearbook of International Organizations includes details of networks of relationships. These may be between orgnizations, between world problems, between organizational strategies, between values, or between approaches to human development. This is especially clear with the information provided in the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential which cross-references the organizations in the Yearbook.

These relationships are usually extremely complex and difficult to understand. It is clearly difficult to gain any meaningful overview of them through textual description or two-dimensional diagrams. VRML techniques provide an entirely new approach to this challenge by making use of three dimensional visualization and navigational tools.

Future issues

We will continue to experiment with these VRML displays. Some issues we face are:

  • discover better ways of positioning interlock structures in 3D space (we are seeking help from practitioners of "graph theory", although they have relatively little interest in depicting the networks they analyze, notably in 3D)
  • structuring the interlocks themselves
  • positioning of "narrower" problems of those represented here as spheres
  • what makes for a meaningful display ? It is one thing to create displays, it is another to render them meaningful.
  • how to use the displays in conjunction with editorial research work on a live database -- where we are essentially engaged in editing complex structures of hyperlinks
  • introduction of viewpoints to take advantage of the browser facilities to move to selected viewpoints
  • use of a grid system to provide some orientation for navigation
  • reducing complexity of objects to improving browser performance (we have used cubes in recent displays)
  • jumping between VRML displays