Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Quantum treemaps meet BHL and the Australian Faunal Directory

One of the things I'm enjoying about the Australian Faunal Directory on CouchDB is the chance to play with some ideas without worrying about breaking lots of code or, indeed, upsetting any users ('cos, let's face it, there aren't any). As a result, I can start to play with ideas that may one day find their way into other projects.

One of these ideas is to use quantum treemaps to display an author's publications. For example, below is a treemap showing publications by G A Boulenger in my Australian Faunal Directory on CouchDB project. The publications are clustered by journal. If a publication has been found in BioStor the treemap displays a thumbnail of that publication, otherwise it shows a white rectangle. At a glance we can see where the gaps are. You can view a publication's details simply by clicking on it.


The entomologist W L Distant has a more impressive treemap, and clearly I need to find quite a few of his publications.
I quite like the look of these, so may think about adding this display to BioStor. I may also think about using treemaps in my ongoing iPad projects. If you want to see where I'm going with this then take a look at Good et al. A fluid treemap interface for personal digital libraries.

The quantum treemap is computed using some rather ugly PHP I wrote, based on this Java code. I've not implemented all the refinements of the original Java code, so the quantum treemaps I create are sometimes suboptimal. To avoid too much visual cluster I haven't drawn a border around each cell, instead I use CSS gradients to indicate the area of the cell (if you're using Internet Explorer the gradient will be vertical rather than going from top left to bottom right). The journal name is overlain on the cell contents, but if you are using a decent browser (i.e., not Internet Explorer) you can still click through this text to the underlying thumbnail because the text uses the CSS property
.overlay { pointer-events: none; }
I learnt this trick from the Stack Overflow question Click through div with an alpha channel.