Interactive vs flythrough visualizations

virtualMorg1900_051107_288Over the years we have seen many geovisualization technologies emerge, each with their own ups and downs (pun, sadly, intended). All of the approaches, however, can be broken down to two styles: 1) flythrough visualizations, where the creator has setup a prescribed flight path that the viewer can not escape (often distributed as a video), and 2) interactive visualizations, where the viewer has control of how and where they approach the visualzation they have been given.

In our web 2.0 world on AJAX maps and virtual globes it seems that more and more users are expecting interactive UI. These allow users to explore areas of the visualization that interest them and to interact with the content to support their query. While the technology is now in place to begin building 2d and 3d interactive environments it moves us away from the traditional map interface, not because of the interactive nature of the technology, but because the visualization must be built in such a way that it more often than not removes the story from the map. Cartographers have used maps to convey information, but the need to respond to user movement across areas and scales, we have removed many of the narrative capabilities of our maps.

‘Flythrough’ or predetermined visualizations provide the content creator with the potential to carry users through a story. To define a linear narrative with punctuated places and linking spaces. Even within a predetermined visualization there is room for interaction with content, for pausing or fast forwarding the flow of information, but is that where we need to focus?

Sitting between two UI models for visualization, which do YOU choose? Or more importantly, how do you span the distance between these approaches to allow users to have a great experience while creating context and conveying a story? Let me know, I am very curious how others are addressing this issue.


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Jesse is Instructor in Geography and a PhD candidate in Geography focusing on the integration of phenomenology and geospatial technologies to study prehistoric cultural landscape. He is a GIS Professional and Registered Professional Archaeologist and holds an MA in Geography and a BS in Anthropology with a concentration in archaeology.