Site Maps and Spatial Guides to Text

The beta release of Cnet in late September marked a significant return of the "map of the market" model pioneered by SmartMoney in the 1990s. While there was some discussion within IDG about the graphical metaphor as an option to replace the existing model of "related links" or "more-like-this" text boxes that most news sites display adjacent to their stories, I feel the gimmick is just that — a gimmick — but one that presents some challenges as publishers attempt to induce their users to linger during their sessions and consume more pages per visit, the leading indicator of that Web 1.0 metric — stickiness.

In brief — an information map is a cartographic technique where the relationship and value of a piece of information (size, popularity, significance) is indicated by an icon’s size, color, and connection to related pieces of content. Think of the maps of the United States that exaggerate the size of the state according to its contribution to a vital statistic. I made such maps at Yale in the 70s in one of my all-time favorite courses, Concepts of Cartography (or ‘Maps for Saps", as the gut-seekers dubbed it), in the Yale Computer Lab, programming punch cards to show the relative tonnage of cargo entering and exiting American ports.

Iconic relativity is a great technique — in theory — and has been extended to aural cues, such as assigning different tones to traded securities, colors for their "heat" or volumes, etc.  None of them seem to have extended very far beyond the initial user interface infatuations of the 90s.

Spatial indicators of informational relationships are common, but not very widely accepted. Jerry Michalski shows one on his site, eg.




While Cnet should be commended for reviving its two related link solutions, I’d like to know how the algorithm is tweaked to insure that popularity doesn’t become a self-fulfilling prophecy, ie. promoting the most viewed story as the largest rectangle in the map will induce others to visit the page, further pushing the ranking of the content.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write