Graphics as Information
In the introduction it was noted that much of the graphics on the WWW is there to add interest (and reduce speed!). Yet there is more to graphics than that. It can be a window onto other information, it can be a way of manipulating a central database, it can provide information by its very nature through image processing and analysis tools. It has the potential to offer a secure access to data, for example census data which needs to be anonymised. The user can extract the information through a graphical representation rather than through a numeric table. The ARGUS project described below has such potential illustrated.
We look here at two UK based projects which are working to use graphics as an interface to data.
The KINDS Project
The project is run jointly by the Department of Geographical and Environmental Sciences of the Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester Computing of Manchester University and the IT Institute of the University of Salford.
It is closely linked to the MIDAS service of Manchester Computing. MIDAS (Manchester Information Datasets and Associated Services) provides on-line support for large and complex data sets. Its aims include the provision of effective, efficient and the widest possible access to these datasets by the UK academic community. KINDS is concerned with large, spatially referenced data sets available to the academic community through CHEST deals.
KINDS is directed to developing an efficient and effective interface to the datasets. The efficiency of access depends on the potential user understanding the datasets and their methods of access. Effectiveness depends on the user knowing what they want and on knowing what the data will provide. For many users and potential users achieving these is a process of education not only about the data but also about their own objectives, the use to which it can be put and the limitations to use.
Developing good practice in using national data sets involves linkages between objectives, data processing methods, software and hardware specifications and data parameters. Understanding and specifying these linkages are complex processes but are necessary if the best and widest use of national data sets are to be achieved.
KINDS will produce an intelligent user interface which sets up the linkages. It will take the form of an interactive system to solicit information from users in order to decide what data are appropriate and then inform how to access them. The interplay will make use of text and visual explanatory materials. These will provide information and ideas which will refine the users understanding not only of the MIDAS service and the data sets it supports but also of the use of spatial data sets in their own area of work. The material will be appropriate for a wide range of users from complete novices to experienced researchers.
The KINDS project will develop an on-line or stand-alone system which will provide as output; instructions on how to access data explanatory materials and quality reports.
The prototype KINDS system provides some user friendly and powerful interfaces for you to browse and search for spatial information about Great Britain. The Bartholomew digital map (GB) dataset has been used as the major spatial information source for the demonstration. The recent development (WWW interfaces to Arc/Info) is also presented here for MIDAS users to experiment with WWW as an alternative platform to handle Bartholomew data and generate feature maps.
ARGUS is joint project between Birckbeck College at the University of Leicester in the UK. Examples of the work to date are:
• Cartographic Data Visualiser (cdv) which is a large collection of tcl/Tk scripts for highly interactive, exploratory spatial data analysis for area aggregate and network data and is available to the academic community in the UK via WWW.
• 3dv which uses readily-available extensions to a public domain GIS called GRASS to illustrate innovative ways of visualizing socio-economic data as well as other abstracts and real surfaces
• a series of WWW pages which illustrate and expand on these developments