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Visualizing the Web

WebMap lets you zoom around a topographic map of the Web to find the page you need.
April 30, 2001

The technology requires a connection to a server-side application, which categorizes documents based on the Web page’s text and metadata entered by Web developers.

On the client side, WebMap is a free browser plug-in for Microsoft Internet Explorer, which connects to the WebMap server and displays pages as icons on a map. The map is divided into oddly shaped, interconnecting regions, like territories on a chart. To look more closely at a region, you click to zoom in, which displays more sites from that region and then individual pages.

Memory Aids

“The technology allows you to take in a lot of information without reading,” and the irregular shapes help you remember, says Michael Iron, WebMap’s CEO.

The regions include Reference, Arts, Computers, Sports, News and Society. This common taxonomy is the same one used by the Open Directory Project, a Yahoo-like directory created by Web surfers.

Each region contains icons. A legend in the browsing window shows icons that represent a standard Web page, a very popular page or one of your Internet Explorer Favorites.

The icons and regions are superimposed over a Web topography. Concentric colored shapes represent traffic patterns. Higher traffic areas appear in warmer colors-yellows, oranges and reds. Lower traffic areas are displayed as greens and blues. Zooming into a region presents a more detailed view of the traffic patterns within that region.

“We use algorithms that look at each document [and establish a relationship] between two documents using keywords and metadata. The algorithm presents this information in a two-dimensional way,” Iron says. “We use a lot of things from fractal geometry, which provides a way to look at large information sets and see the patterns between many documents.”

Faster Finds

You can run a text search of the Open Directory Project or Google from within WebMap. Instead of displaying returns in a long text list, results pop onto the map as hot spots. Click one, and the page launches in a new window.

WebMap packs related pages close together, which should streamline searches. And as you use WebMap over time, links that you use more often move to the top of a region and pages you use less often sink down.

Earlier this month the company disclosed plans to roll out WebMap for internal use by companies that need to access large amounts of data, in industries including travel, finance and pharmaceuticals. Iron says WebMap’s selling point is the ability to organize data visually both on the Web and, using XML, in corporate databases. A wireless client also is in the works.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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