THE INTERNET WWW

MAP SITE EVALUATION

By Eric Yamashita


The Himalayas: An Animation

Weather World

Introduction:

As I began to search through web sites for maps, I noticed that the majority of the maps on the Internet were scanned raster maps. These maps were either too big to view on the screen, so as the map reader had to scroll the screen horizontally or vertically to view the entire map, or they weren't very dynamic or interactive. Although paper maps aren't very dynamic nor interactive, I've always found that for this medium this uninteractiveness worked, but for a computerized map on the World Wide Web Internet medium, which allows for the creation of interactive maps, these static uninteractive maps didn't seem all that interesting. Why recreate the same map that has already been done on the paper medium, when the resources are available to make it more interesting and attention grabbing? The reason I ask this is because everytime I found a map on the Internet, the first thing I did was to see if it was clickable. If it wasn't, I moved on to find another map.
On the otherhand, the clickable interactive maps are a better form of presentation, in that you can have the overall display of the static map and more. That's why I chose to evaluate animated maps. Because they are somewhat interactive and eye catching.

Map Site 1 Evaluation:

The Himalayas In 3D
Located at URL: http://www.tasc.com/ENTERTAINMENT/himalayas.html

This first map site is of a non-temporal, frame based fly-through animation of the Himalayas, created by Geologist Tom Parr of TASC in 1987. He created this 3-D animation after the speculation that K2 of the Karakoram Mountains was taller than Mount Everest of the Himalayas. To create this map, a 3-D wireframe graphics of the terrain was produced on a graphics workstation using digital terrain elevation data. Then a flight path was established through the wireframe, which provided oblique views as if the terrain was being viewed from an aircraft. The 3-D wireframe fly-through was then combined with LandSat imagery to give the terrain a realistic look, the result was 40 seconds of animation that covered 100's of kilometers of the Himalayas.
Regarding the human-computer interface of this map site, there is a limited degree of interaction. Within the site itself, there are no advance interfaces in the way of forms or menus, there are no clickable or selectable objects other than a list of selectable hypertext descriptions of the format of the animation that the user would like to download. This part of the map site is rather simple and plain, but this page isn't the focal point of the map site, so it's degree of interaction is appropriate. The main part of this map site is in the map itself, of which because it is an animated map is also limited in it's degree of interaction due to the software or technology that is used to view it. It is controlled by VCR like controls, for which an individual wanting to see the the animation can press a play button or a stop button to pause the animation. There are also buttons which allow the the observer to step forward and reverse through each individual frame of the animation. This interactive VCR like controls is appropriate for just viewing the animation, but for this type of animated map more interaction would be appreciated, such as allowing the observer to have more control over the flight path and zooming in and out of the terrain features.
Graphically, this animated map is well designed, I'm sure it took a lot of hours to create this map, but not knowing the terrain features of the Himalayas too well, it's difficult to know, without some type of guide, exactly what you are seeing. There is no indication of scale nor of which direction is north. Also, because the imagery used was Landsat, the color of the terrain was digitally created, thus it doesn't appear to be true color. The resolution of the animation is somewhat blurred, this is probably a result of converting the animation from it's original form on the workstation to a format to allow it to be viewed on Netscape or Mosaic. Also, it's resolution could have been effected by it's reduction in size due to the viewer format. A good point about this animated map is that it runs smoothly, probably because it is made up of many frames and it flows through rather quickly.
Cartographically overall, the display was effective in that it brings the Himalayas to people, so that people who can't go to the Himalayas can view it over the internet. It also shows the everyday observer a better perspective of the mountains that can't be achieved through a static topographic or relief shading map. I'm sure it's initial purpose was to allow geologist to study the Himalayas, but with the reduction in size of the map, it seems better suited for enjoyment.

Map Site 2 Evaluation:

Weather World
Located at URL: http://www.atmos.uiuc.edu/wxworld/html/detailed.html

This map site consisted of temporal frame based animated weather maps, and unlike the other map site that was evaluated, it allowed for more interaction within the site itself and the user. This site included hypertext links that allowed the user to select the type of weather map to view, either satellite maps, surface maps, upper air maps, or forecast maps, which are linked to other pages that consist of more hypertext links that allow the user to select either to view a static map or an animation. Choosing to view an animation is both interactive and a little customizable, in that the user interactively chooses to view an animation by clicking on a hypertext link which downloads the animation, and customizable somewhat in that depending on which hypertext link the user chooses determines ho many frames the animation be made of. Although there some degree of interaction within this site, there still isn't any advance customization in the way of forms and menus. The human-computer interaction is very simple and straight forward because this interaction only consist of clickable hypertext links. The maps themselves are limited in there interaction in that the static maps are non interactive, they only represent th individual frames in the animations. The animations, like the map in the previous evaluation, are displayed through a VCR type viewer in which interaction is limited to play, pause, and stepping through each individual frame. This method of interaction, although appropriate for users who want to view the change in weather throughout the day, is limited by the software or viewer.
Graphically, these maps are made up of generalized coastlines and borders. This is appropriate in that the main focus of the maps are not in the precision location was depicted, but the weather pattern at that location. Design wise the maps are rather simple, each frame in the animations are raster maps, whether it being satellite imagery or a drawing, of a different time throughout the day. Flaws in the design are that there are no indication of scale on any of the maps, nor are there any real use of legends within the maps. This may be appropriate for a person who understands weather, but for someone who has a limited knowledge of weather patterns, the maps have no meaning. Some of the maps use color well, like the weather forecast maps which are of the shaded isarithmic form, seem to best depict the weather patterns. While others, like the Surface Maps and the Upper Air Maps, don't use it's colors to aid in the understanding of the maps and the weather patterns, especially the upper air maps since they're in black and white. Another flaw in the design seems to be evident on the Surface and Upper Air Maps, in that there is too much information on the maps. This is a problem in the animations, in which the text on the maps become very unappealing. Although size doesn't seem to be a problem in the animations, the individual frames dont fit entirely on the screen, thus to view the maps the user has to scroll the page horizontally or vertically.
The overall display of these maps is good, except for the problems mentioned previously, but I found that the animations appeared rather blurry on the screen and this could be a function of viewer format. Also, the animations seem rather slow and unappealing if it doesn't consist of many frames. But altogether, the display seems to achieve its goal, by allowing users who wish to see and study the changing can so by watching the animations.