In an early paper about the WWW presented at the 3rd Joint European Networking Conference in May 1992, Tim Berners-Lee, Robert Caillau and Jean François Groff stated:
"The aims of the W3 initiative are twofold: firstly to make a single, easy user-interface to all types of information so that all may access it, and secondly to make it so easy to add new information that the quantity and quality of inline information will both increase."
It is certainly true that much of this vision has been achieved. Vast amounts of information are available, although organising this information and quality assurance are still challenges to be fully met. The information is still mostly textual and the images simple and still and serve little purpose in providing information. This report notes the current status and the potential for new forms of graphics to emerge on the WWW.
A recent special edition of IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications (Gershon and Brown, 1996) looked at the use of Computer Graphics and Applications in the Global Information Structure.
This issue commences with a statement by Al Gore, Vice President of the USA who says:
"With more information and data becoming accessible and the wide availability of commercial versions of graphics Web browsers via online services and software producers, the Web is likely to continue its explosive rate of growth. Continued work by the information visualization and computer graphics communities has the potential to make the World Wide Web and the Internet even more accessible and useful to citizens of all ages and from all walks of life. I would like to challenge you to take a critical next step. We need to move beyond Web browsers into the world of collaborative work. The information needs of the government, industry and the public are becoming more complex and demanding new ways to link people across organisational, geographic and educational boundaries."
This is our challenge and why we need to look at more complex forms of graphical data than the familiar GIF and JPEG files.
The WWW, through its graphical users interfaces, has given us a visual window onto a range of linked information sources. The emergence of new versions of HTML as well as non-standard extensions have given a range of methods of displaying information in a way which aims to capture the reader. The development of standard style sheets for the WWW will allow better practice.
The pictures associated with the text on WWW pages are intended to capture the reader's attention through the use of logos, photographs and diagrams. Rarely does this enhance the information being presented, it is intended as an attention-catching device.
The ability to display still images with the intention that these will add interest - and possibly aid explanation - is important on the WWW. This does not really take us further than a book, journal or newspaper in that the text and images being presented are still and thus do not progress beyond the page paradigm. In fact, the relative difficulty of looking at a screen, compared to paper, the lower resolution, and the inherent portability of paper, may make paper a preferable medium for many purposes. Of course, such an argument is counterbalanced by the ability to search and access information quickly and to find links to other related data.
We need to have a wider vision of graphics on the WWW for the following reasons:
• graphics can indeed be used to illustrate a point and add interest. We can however move beyond this and have graphical interfaces to information. In the same way as we can display text in a range of styles, we have the technology to allow graphical interfacing to, for example numeric, information to allow it to be displayed in different ways and to be manipulated by the user.
• it is also necessary to think of the information being transported across the network and to consider the relationship between the size of that transferred information and the processing carried out locally. We currently have a situation where a great deal of network traffic is being taken up with simple pictures transferred using a format which minimises local processing needs. Would we be better reducing file size and increasing the processing required of the server? The demands on the network do require some serious thinking about a range of other possibilities.
In order to consider the potential for this wider vision, this report looks at the nature of graphical information. It then moves on to look at a range of example file formats which illustrate different types of data. Some scenarios are then considered. The final part of the report considers the needs for graphical resources to be organised with suitable indexing and metadata. Some examples of this are given.
It seems the aim of any company involved in information provision to make their technology available via the WWW. This report reflects the current (May 1996) technology and gives a snapshot of some of the current movements in the business. While this will change, it is hoped that the general considerations will hold as the market inevitably changes.