On-demand structures 17:43 on Friday

Pathway is a newish OS X tool for browsing Wikipedia.

The interesting bit is not so much the application itself, but the way of representing the free-form network of information in a wiki as a hierarchical structure that people can grasp. And more importantly, not representing all of the information, which usually ends up looking something like this:

Rewiring the spy illustration (from Visual Complexity)
Rewiring the spy illustration, from Visual Complexity

But representing the selected information and it’s context, as defined by the hyperlinks in the page:

Pathway screenshot

This is an example of creating on-demand structure in the decidedly un-hierarchical world of Wikipedia.

Open-ended networks of information such as Wikipedia and other text-based information systems organized by tags tend to suffer from a loss of context when the amount of information goes up. And when the context gets weaker, the value of information gets decreased. Any structure that makes the user visualize a piece of information in context of the surrounding relevant information, in turn increases the value of the information.

3 Responses to “On-demand structures”


  1. TomC Says:

    It definitely looks interesting. You’re spot on about the Rewiring the Spy visualisation – it only illustrates the problem, it doesn’t solve it. Sadly this is true of many of the pieces on Visual Complexity… many of them use the “throw the data at the screen and see what sticks” approach, which is always tempting but rarely fruitful. (I’m guilty of this too, from time to time.)

  2. Niko Says:

    Visual Complexity is indeed an excellent source of good looking experiment, but for me a visualization has to be useful to be good. Nevertheless, it is an entertaining and visually interesting site.

  3. TomC Says:

    Absolutely, I’m a big fan of Visual Complexity. As with infosthetics.com I have great respect for anyone who can carve out a niche and find lots of good content to fill it. I see a lot of things for the first time at both those sites.

    I think there’s space in this area for some gentle critiquing to be done though. It’s something I’m hoping to do more of this year – hopefully it won’t be just one-liners buried in my del.icio.us feed for ever. I’m always glad to see thoughtful posts from you in this area, and others like eagereyes.org and mentegrafica.it are emerging with more to say than just “wow look!” too.

    Coincidentally, I just opened this post from Jason Santa Maria as I was finishing off this comment: http://www.jasonsantamaria.com/archive/2006/02/02/utl_2_critiquing.php