Visualization tools again

After I installed the service pack 2 of MS Office 2007, I knew that I need a different replacement for my pet visualization tool PowerPoint 2003.

The error that annoys me is still not fixed, and this probably means that someone thinks “it works as designed”. It works like this: I insert two boxes and connect them with a glued connector line. When I Arrange > Align > Align Bottom, the connector line falls to the bottom ground, as well, and is no longer attached to my boxes.

But for me, the glued connectors have always been very important because I need a visualization tool for unstructured but connected ideas and for rearranging them again and again.

Visualization tools are more and more focussing on the output side, on the impressing presentation. Even mindmaps which were formerly the tool for brainstorming and input of ideas, increasingly serve as vehicles for the trendy demonstration of creative/ non-linear thinking. However, they often only obscure a stubborn hierarchical tree structure that is rolled around a radial star structure.

Recently, several mindmap tools added support for floating nodes (e. g. Visual Mind), and they are thus converging towards concept maps, whose focus has always been to be shown to other people.

Until recently, I disliked Cmaps because of this (e. g. that they urged me to write proposition phrases on the connector lines). Now I have accepted that tools for visualized input and output are distinct things, and I am prepared to copy my ideas from the former to the latter.

For the latter (presentation) purpose, ever more interesting tools are popping up. A development worth watching, is Prezi which obviously promises to overcome the terribly linear structure of powerpoint presentations. Unfortunately, most examples so far just abuse it as another fancy distracting variety of slide transitions.

But for the preceding visualization stage (input of ideas) I still don’t find the optimal one, and the development of my favorite DeepaMehta is further delayed. Perhaps my preferences are too uncommon? A new posting of the Eide’s resonated well with me. They described a style that combines spatial and kinesthetic preferences, and my favorite tool seems to do just this, as well:

  • in the left pane, there is a visual overview for kinesthetically picking and moving short titles,
  • while on the right pane, a detail area displays longer text immediately.

This is a very powerful environment which allows me to sort-of “zoom” in and out to and from details in a much quicker and more effective way than with dedicated zoom interfaces. These limitations of zooming became more apparent than ever to me, when I experimented with the above-mentioned tool just because it offered yet again significant improvements of zooming, but still did not completely satisfy.

Maybe some two page approach will be the promising way to cope with such limitations. When Dave Gray contrasts The browser and the book in his new unbook, the “spread” (the two facing pages of a book) plays a prominent role as a “cognitively comfortable” unit. And even PDF has lost some of its annoyance since my monitor’s size allows me the View > Page Display > Two up setting. We’ll see.

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