Improving on the super-duper pedigree viewer

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msbob-p40
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Improving on the super-duper pedigree viewer

Postby msbob-p40 » Sat Feb 24, 2007 3:27 pm

I played around with building a giant pedigree viewer last summer, and came up with a nifty idea for making the whole thing more manageable than anything I've seen to date.

The latest pedigree viewer on FamilySearchLabs.org solves the manageability problem by compressing the tree nodes vertically when whole subtrees are absent. This saves a lot of space and allows the user to more quickly navigate around the entire tree, but I see three weaknesses. First, the benefit is proportional to the sparseness of tree. The more you add, the worse it gets. Second, the connector lines from child to parents for all but the first few generations are usually skewed to the point of being visually non-functional. Third, the layout is entirely dependent on the data, so you have to adjust the layout every time you add or remove a node from the tree. With this approach there's little hope of users developing a reliable spatial mental model over time.

My idea was to have the right side of the tree auto-expand, or spread out, as you scroll from left to right. The result is that, no matter where you go in the tree, you have a pleasantly proportioned pedigree chart within the viewable area. The parent-child relationships are always perfectly arranged, just like a typical four-generation chart. I built a prototype and showed it to a number of non-technical people with varying experience in family history research, and they have all been extremely impressed with how comfortably it displays the data. I loaded my wife's GEDCOM file into it with around 500 individuals, and it was as easy to comprehend and navigate as if it only had 50. That's the point -- the quality of the viewing experience is independent of either the depth or sparseness of the tree. The only hard part is getting used to the "feel" of navigating around with the tree automatically spreading or compressing as you go. However, in my implementation it was very smooth, so it was pretty easy to get the hang of it.

There's some mildly fancy math behind this kind of experience since you're using a logarithmic transform to get from the tree's coordinate space to the viewer's coordinate space, but if someone like me could figure it out with a little trial and error, it can't be that hard. :)

I imagine that with some more complicated math you could pull off a similar experience for a descendency tree. In an ancestor tree, the relationship of one individual to another absolutely determines their relative positions in the coordinate space. This is because space is alloted for exactly two parents of every node (exceptions are handled by a secondary UI). For a descendency tree, you could get the same simplicity if you just allot a fixed amount of coordinate space for an individual's immediate children, regardless of how many children they actually have. If there's more, you cram them in tighter. If there's less, you spread them out. This should be okay, because the navigation experience allows the user to spread or compress the tree by simply dragging to the right or left, so they can always get to a point where what they want to see is visible.

I apologize if this approach is hard to visualize based on my description, but I promise -- it's pretty nifty when you see it. Any thoughts from the crowd?

russellhltn
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Postby russellhltn » Sat Feb 24, 2007 3:38 pm

So, it's kinda like a magnifying glass except the magnifying glass stays stationary and the document moves under it? Sounds nice. Where can we see this? :D

And have you told FamilySearchLabs? I'm sure they'd love to see it.

msbob-p40
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Postby msbob-p40 » Sat Feb 24, 2007 3:50 pm

Yes, that's a great way to describe it. No, I haven't shown it to the labs folks yet.

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greenwoodkl
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Postby greenwoodkl » Sat Feb 24, 2007 5:58 pm

I think you should mention it to the FS Labs team - visit their site at http://www.familysearchlabs.org, their blog at http://familysearchlabs.blogspot.com, or send them an email at feedback <AT> familysearchlabs <DOT> org.

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mkmurray
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Email Addresses

Postby mkmurray » Sat Feb 24, 2007 7:24 pm

kgthunder wrote:...send them an email at feedback <AT> familysearchlabs <DOT> org.

That's very considerate of you, kgthunder, to write the email in that format. We should all take note of that if an email address that is not yours must be posted on these forums.

Another option would be PMing the email address to the individuals that need it.

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greenwoodkl
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Postby greenwoodkl » Sat Feb 24, 2007 7:35 pm

I thought about PMing the email, but I figure others may not know about FS Labs and may find the email useful since it is quite hidden on their site.

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thedqs
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Postby thedqs » Sat Feb 24, 2007 8:30 pm

Thanks for the e-mail, I have had some ideas in the past for them and even though most of them have been discussed here or implemented in other places. If I ever get a new idea I'll be able to send it.
- David

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WelchTC
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interesting concept

Postby WelchTC » Sun Feb 25, 2007 5:58 am

Anyway to get your prototype out so others can plan / see it in action?

Tom

eatslikeahuman-p40
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Fixed position vs. Compacting positions

Postby eatslikeahuman-p40 » Mon Feb 26, 2007 12:45 pm

I'm glad to see others are experimenting with some of the hard problems in genealogy applications. One of the early prototypes of the pedigree viewer at familysearchlabs.org worked in the way you've described. Each ancestor had a fixed position. There are clearly tradeoffs between the fixed position vs. compacting approaches as you've pointed out. After testing the viewer we opted for the compacting approach. Some of the primary drivers in this deicision:

1. The further back you went the more dispersed your tree became. This resulted in lots and lots and lots of panning.
2. With the tree so spread out and so little of the tree visible on the screen the fixed position did little to help the user with a spatial mental model. There was so much data off the screen that it made it very difficult to understand where the user was in relation to the rest of the tree.

To make it easier for users to trace specific lines deep into a pedigree, we added the Align Family feature. Implementing animation with this feature helped the users to maintain their context in relation to the tree around them and get a very clear view of the direct line.

As a side note, one of our key learnings on the project was the power of animation to help the user maintain context and build a spatial mental model.

-Dan

russellhltn
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Postby russellhltn » Mon Feb 26, 2007 5:48 pm

eatslikeahuman wrote:-Dan


Hey Dan, great to see you here. I've been following your blog and left comments in the past (usually under Anonymous since it seem too much effort to put my name in there.)

P.S. What are you going to name your blog when you girl gets old enough to realize where the name comes from and goes Dadieeeeeeeeeee!!! :D


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