Visual navigation of textual information

Anne’s recent post about the nice Programs and Research mugs featuring our own decorative tag cloud made me think about the overall lack of success at leveraging visual displays to aid in the navigation of textual information. Tag clouds are one of the few that seem to have traction and add value beyond the decorative. I’m aware of Grokker and a variety of other attempts at visual displays (cf Visual Net) – the only one that I find useful is the hyperbolic tree in the Visual Thesaurus. It’s not that I haven’t been enamored of the notion. Our very early planning for what became the RedLightGreen service (soon to rest in peace within the more expansive potential of WorldCat.org) included my own take at a tree display of results. It’s from around April 2001 and looked like this:
voltaire hyper

We were hurried away from this approach by the design firm that we retained to help us on RedLightGreen – ironically enough the folks who were responsible for ThinkMap, the software that underpins the Visual Thesaurus, and who now concentrate solely on that product. If you have any interest in words, reading and writing their web site is worth a look.

In any event I’d be glad to hear about innovative and useful visual displays that add to the utility of bibliographic searches. I expect that there will come a time when such displays will be very helpful and expected but the prerequisite at least on the discovery dimension might be the long-anticipated convergence of libraries, museums and archives .