The Encyclopedia of Life: Information visualisation

The vexed problem of how to render complexity, complex processes and large datasets is an issue I’ve covered on this blog earlier.

Whether it be the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, Reuters AlertNet, The Dropping Knowledge Initiative, DARPA’s GALE, the challenge is essentially to design a user interface that is able to render simply complexity, in a manner that allows a user to delve ever deeper into an issue or topic without being overwhelmed by information. It is a significant challenge, and one made even more complex by the fact that information, in order to become knowledge, needs to be set in context and made intelligible to a user. A simple Google search exemplifies the problem – hundreds of thousands of results, no way in which to sift through them or even find out how some of them link up with each other.

In Indexing knowledge – Designing search engines for conflict and peace research I spoke of a mash-up between Podzinger, Riya, Clusty and The Living Library as one that would be a killer of a knowledge search / knowledge management tool that if ever developed could leave Google far behind.

Taking a very different approach to Google and in an effort similar to, but not bedevilled by the trappings of Wikipedia, is the Encyclopedia of Life. Right now, there is only a video to demonstrate what this platform will feature when it’s launched in the near future. What captured my attention in particular was the section in the video in which the UI for the encyclopedia is demonstrated, which looks to be a fluid and captivating experience that should allow for some fascinating meanderings into the complexity of life. Clearly, once launched, an inspiration for the UI design of similar projects.

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