[Submitted by Stephen MacNeil]
Currently I am trying to aid the NewRadial team in figuring out the most effective and efficient way of displaying databases of printed text within NewRadial’s visual field. NewRadial already has a proven ability to work effectively with images, but writing presents an entirely different set of challenges. For instance, NewRadial’s display of iconic pages works well for collections of distinct images, but displaying a collection of pages that contain relatively similar configurations of printed text results in an ineffective visual homogeneity. Furthermore, I am not entirely convinced that seeing text as thumbnail images of pages is the most effective way to work with the written word in the NewRadial interface. Most problematic is that there are different ways of formatting text. For instance, literary texts can be in the form of novels, dramas, or essays. Some novels have chapters while others do not, and not every drama has the same act structure. In short, it’s difficult to design an interface that will account for and support all of these variations.
Certain questions became apparent prior to this venture. First and foremost, is there anything new to be gained by implementing textual material within NewRadial’s interface? If the answer is indeed “yes,” how do we make the NewRadial interface (which currently displays database objects iconically) work with textual material ? Using NewRadial to explore the scanned pages of Jon Bath’s digitized Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer reveals its inherent usefulness as a browsing and annotation environment in relation to text documents (http://inke.acadiau.ca/newradial/newradial.html?adapter=canterbury&adapterName=The%20Canterbury%20Tales).
I am quickly able to find various pages with particular ideas by searching the metadata, and then make connections between pages based on that data. I can create groups of pages and set them aside from the main radial of pages. I can do all this and still keep all of the pages within my field of view. This differs greatly from both traditional and electronic forms of research where I often felt restricted by viewing single pages at a time and relying on bookmarks. By these functions alone there is a value to NewRadial’s interface using scanned images of text-based documents, but how far could we push it to effectively work with text itself? How could this iconic display field be expanded so that textual sources could be more easily explored and expanded to different levels of atomization (for prose: volumes, chapters, pages, paragraphs, sentences, and words)? Most importantly, what other affordances and limitations would arise in regards to working with texts in this way within the NewRadial interface?
Implementing a practical method of working with text within NewRadial is something the team is going to explore in 2013. Expanding NewRadial to handle databases of images and words will allow for the realization of a diverse social edition environment whereby users can collaboratively contribute to a particular work or study. The implications of this are exciting but the challenges I have outlined need to be addressed early. While certain challenges are immediately apparent (and I imagine unanticipated ones will arise), the process of working through such innovative reconceptualizations will certainly prove as valuable as the end result. This process will be chronicled in upcoming blogs, so check back regularly!