I recently wrote a post on how Web 2.0 is about the right-side of your brain. Yesterday Om Malik wrote about a new on-line shopping site, Browse Goods, that uses a much more visual shopping experience as differentiation in the very crowded shopping and directory business. The service is currently limited to shoes, watches, toys and a limited selection of sporting goods, but more is coming.
Browsing is more like going into a department store where all the goods are organized into separate, but very visible parts of the store. You walk in and see what catches your eye. You can imagine yourself stumbling across something that you weren't planning on buying, but impulse and the devil made you do it. I'll take one of those, these and that. This isn't about analysis and comparison, real left-brain activities, that are delivered by most on-line sites.
The left-brain in me sees a pattern in the presentation. This is very similar to drill-down heat maps that have been used in financial services for a while now. O'Reilly uses a heat map on his book sales to indicate what subjects are hot and what are not. At the moment there isn't enough data on the Browse Goods site to drive a heat map of sales, but you can see it coming.
I believe that the set of visualization mechanisms that are available for use in Web 2.0 presentation are limited, but can be stylized in infinite number of ways. We know that the left-brain likes linear and tree structures, where the right-brain like abstract concepts and spatial structures. So here is my first approximation of what those structures might be:
- Maps - this was the first wave and we saw this with Google maps being mashed up with things like real estate in sites like Zillow and similar concepts being applied to Flickr maps. This can be metaphorical or fictitious maps as well, such as those found in Second Life
- Heat Map - Already discussed, this is a more compelling mechanism of displaying the same information as analytic charts. Pie and Bar Charts provide good targets for drill-downs of popular or hot topics, but are not exactly right-brain friendly. Go to where the heat is.
- Color and Image Coded Lists - Top 10 lists will always be popular, but can use color and images to emphasize position, trends and rank like Newsweek's Conventional Wisdom chart
- Tag Clouds - Simple presentation of various levels of interest through typeface and font size
- Mind Maps - Related to tag clouds in presenting concepts, but more directed with explicit relationships. These may be too personal to use in mass market environments.
- Fish-eye and Hyperbolic browsers - This concept was originally developed at places like Xerox Parc and MIT Media Lab in the 80's and early 90's with few great applications, but could apply to things like tag clouds
- Time lines - What makes Technorati different? Time lines provide a tool to move in dimensions that the mind moves with scrolling walls and spheres (like Picasa). These can be stylized into lines or as calendars.
- Family Tree - A way of presenting the complex flow of relationships over time, especially for product lineage
- Radar - As a metaphor for what's over the horizon, radars present how far objects are from you and what direction they are coming - good for presenting future events, interest or threats
- Human Body - Presenting biological organisms is a powerful metaphor and none more powerful than the human body. You can use the human body as both a map and as part of parts explosion
- Rogues Gallery - There is a reason it is called Facebook. Your brain is extremely tuned to look at a large crowd of people and pick out a face.
- Parts Explosion - Taking a photograph of an ordinary physical object and blowing it apart with other photographs and animation as a way of drilling down a subject and providing a means of connection other objects (or things to buy - particularly in high-cost goods like autos)
- Analog Controls from the physical world. We already see touch-tone phone pads and dials and volume controls on many web sites. This was an equalizer control from Facebook to control output of stories based upon characteristics:
- Floating Detail - By floating over any of the above visualizations, Pop-up, hover dialog that provides a quick summary of information along with a representative thumbnail. This can take on the characteristic of a post-it or a magnifying lens
What these have in common with each other is modeling and presenting relationships between objects or describing a property or characteristic of an object. This is what the web has been doing with lists, tables, forms and charts since the beginning. More artistic types, such as those at Dotted Pair, are transforming the user experience by using the spatial and conceptual models of the right brain.
Have I missed anything?