Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Liquid Browsing - a new paradigm for accessing huge collections of data ?!

As promissed yesterday, I've installed iverse's liquidfile, a kind of substitute (or supplement) for the mac finder. (For all those mac illiterates: the finder is some kind of file system browser). Liquidfile applies the principle of liquid browsing to the filesystem of your computer. To get a short overview, how liquid browsing works, just take a look at the following short movie presentations [1] [2]. It's rather difficult to describe the way how it works with words, because its a visual way of browsing...and thus it is better explained in a visual way also. It's a 2 dimensional visualization, where e.g. the x-axis represents a timeline (as e.g. file creation date) and the y-axis represents all files in an alphabetical order. Then, every file is put on that grid and denoted with a bubble. The size of the bubble (which itself is semi-transparent) reflects the size of the file. The nice thing in general about liquid browsing is that you are able to visualize huge amount of data also on small displays. In that case the mouse pointer acts as some kind of magnifying glass.

As for the file system on your computer, this kind of visualizations has some advantages. First, you can dissolve the entire directory structure (if you want) and look at all files at once (on my computer this were more than 15.000 files). You have the possibility to combine complex (realtime) filtering with several selection mechanisms to find the files you are looking for. Simultaneously, the order in which the files are presented in general stays always the same and does not change. Thus, your visual memory will always be able to memorize the approximate position of a distinct file that you are looking for.
Of course the system has several drawbacks (at least now). My macBook is rather new (january 2007). Thus, almost all of my files have the same creation date (most of them were simply copied to the macBook on the very same day....). Therefore, the time axis will work best, if you start to work with your computer and they will be created/changed over the time.
Another drawback is the limitation of the axes to represent only filenames, filesizes, or creation/change dates. I would like to order files also according to other (also content based) criterias to get a better overview.

But, it's a nice appetizer anyway. What I would like to try out is to visualize relationships between entities (files/documents) with this technique. Just imagine bubbles of different entities and if I focus on one, all other bubbles that represent entities, which are in a certain relationship to the entity being in focus will highlight or move closer (of course in realtime...).