Summary: Users of maps and other visualizations of data want it all. They want both detail and context as they explore small scale (large area) graphics. Technologies to address this challenge have come and gone. The latest one is from researchers at Purdue. Their tool, dubbed PolyZoom, organizes simultaneous, magnified views from a single document, while maintaining their relationship to the whole.
The tool creates multiple pullout boxes with leader lines linking them back to their location on the full-scale document. The tool may be used beyond maps in the exploration of scanned texts. Doctoral students Waqas Javed and Sohaib Ghani, who are on the project team, explain one possible application. "Say you are a historian looking at a large collection of scanned pages from a book. You might want to zoom into a particular page and read the words, or look at many pages at the same time and compare those.”
Project lead Niklas Elmqvist, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, is keen on confirming the new tool does not add complexity or time to document exploration. The team compared PolyZoom to traditional navigation techniques in two studies. "In both user studies we found that people were faster using our technique compared to existing products. It provides new ways of viewing several parts of a map at once, for example, which you currently can't do with existing products." The technology is stand alone and Elmqvist imagines it being incorporated into mapping, GIS and GPS software. The online demo is built on Google Maps (see graphic).
The team presented its work (pdf) at the Association for Computing Machinery's CHI 2012 conference on May 5-10 in Austin, Texas.