AGOCG logo
Graphics Multimedia VR Visualisation Contents
Training Reports Workshops Briefings Index

The Authoring and Application of Hypermedia-Based User-Interfaces


This colloquium was organised by the Human-Computer Interaction Group of the IEE Computing and Control Division. It was held at Savoy Place in London on 14 November 1995. A hypermedia interface was described as being "an easy to use, non linear multimedia interface to computer-based systems". The aim of the colloquium was to examine some of the issues involved in designing, applying and using a hypermedia interface. Eight papers were presented during the day covering topics such as tools for authoring, authoring for the blind, and authoring paradigms. The papers provided a varied look at how hypermedia documents are authored, and how they may be authored in the future. The colloquium was well attended, and the discussions, at the end of each paper and in the final session, brought out a number of interesting points, which were not always resolved.

Authoring Systems

The first two papers looked at two different methods of creating hypermedia. Martin Lee, of the Computer Information Systems Management Group at Cranfield University, looked at hypermedia authoring using the Microsoft Windows Multimedia Viewer Publishing Toolkit. Although it can only be used to create simple, platform specific documents, the system is cheap and will be familiar to any Windows user.

At the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at the University of Leeds, a different approach was taken, producing their own authoring system. The Programmed Learning Environment (PLE) was designed to allow current course notes to be transferred online, and online laboratory exercises to be included. The laboratory exercises include the ability to launch other programs, such as compilers, while running the PLE. Among the other features present in this system is the logging capabilities, which allow tutors to see what sections were accessed by which students and for how long, and self assessment using randomly selected multiple choice questions. It was felt that the system had been generally well received, and work was continuing adding new features, such as navigation aids and creating new course work.

Novel Interfaces

Chris Hand presented a novel use of the World Wide Web (WWW), where a virtual trade exhibition, TaTTOO'95, was held using a MOO accessible through WWW. A MOO is an Object Oriented Multi-User Dungeon, a text based system with a command line interface in which users and other objects are situated in a virtual space. Users may customise the way they appear to other users, and may create other objects. Users can also talk to other users on a variety of levels, for example person to person, or a more widespread broadcast. HTTP support was added to the MOO server by making every object (including users) in the MOO a document. Each delegate was given the ability to create WWW pages, and as they journeyed round the exhibition anything they 'picked up', such as virtual leaflets or business cards were automatically added to their WWW page. Thus delegates authored their own pages as they browsed, without needing any knowledge of HTML.

Although multimedia by its very nature has the potential to be accessible to all, the advent of the Graphical User Interface has made accessing much information very difficult for blind users. Peter McNally, from the University of Hertfordshire, described part of the work of the ACCESS project, designing a hypermedia interface for blind people. Blind students and blind computer experts have been interviewed in the UK and Italy to establish what functionality such an interface would require, and several blind users tested a prototype hypermedia system. This prototype was accessed using a keyboard, joystick, touch tablet and speech input, with speech and sound output. An interesting discussion developed after the presentation regarding the use of a joystick rather than a mouse. A joystick can centre back to the centre of the screen, giving a constant reference point for navigation. A mouse, having no geometric reference point, is harder to use for a blind person. It was suggested that a reference point was only needed because the users were being asked to navigate through an interface designed around a visual paradigm, and that perhaps a better interface might be a series of spoken menus, which could be easily accessed by the mouse. It was felt by some that this would be too slow an interface, but the discussion was never really resolved.

Authoring Tools and Design

Yin Leng's paper looked at the problems authors have in designing good hypermedia documents because of the limitations imposed on them by the authoring systems. A number of authors, both amateur and experienced were interviewed to determine what features they felt were necessary in a good system. A number of areas, such as facilities to check links are valid, were identified. In general they found that current support is poor in most of the areas.

Gentml, a new authoring tool developed at Middlesex University to overcome some of these problems, was then briefly described. This is a HTML generator which automatically provides navigation menus, indexes etc, in order to allow the author to concentrate on content.

Another HTML generating application from the same department at Middlesex University was described by Mark Addison. HyperDoc allows the creation of a system definition from which a HTML manual is automatically generated. This means that as the system definition changes, the manuals are updated, and because they are generated from the definition they realistically describe the system, making it easier to use.

Neville Stanton, from the University of Southampton, looked at the problem of 'lost in hyperspace', which often occurs in poorly designed hypermedia documents. He suggested that nodes be made more sophisticated, with specific properties, which will form the basis of links. This would be similar to an object oriented approach, and interaction with the text similar to content analysis.

The final paper of the day was presented by Lynda Hardman from the CWI in Amsterdam. She first described various authoring paradigms - timeline, flowchart, structure-based and script-based - before describing the CWI system, CMIFed. CMIFed combines structure and time-based methods in a structure-based environment. Authoring is carried out in two views, the hierarchy view, where the structure of the presentation is controlled, and the channel view, which provides a view of the media items mapped onto available resources.

Online Papers

Most of the work presented at this colloquium can be found online.

Details of LaTeX2HTML can be found at: /nikos/projects/latex2html.html

Papers relating to TaTTOO'95 can be found at: /Research/MRG/mrg-pubs.html Details of Yin Leng's research /staffpages/yinleng/yl.html

More information about Gentml can be found at: /harold/webPaper/wwwAbstract.html /auto.html Details of the ACCESS project can be found at: /PsyDocs/sdru/index.html

CWI Papers relating to authoring and other aspects of multimedia can be found at: /mmpapers/index.html

Sue Cunningham
SIMA Multimedia Support Officer
URL: /CGU/mmsup.html