Search Technology: Get the Picture?

Rather than forcing you to ''enter keywords here,'' WebMap lets you point and click.
John EdwardsSeptember 15, 2001

Webmap Server Finance, developed by Boston-based WebMap Technologies, transforms any Internet, intranet, database, or extranet information repository into an interactive visual map. “The amount of information available to financial decision makers continues to grow exponentially,” says Pattie Maes, an associate professor at MIT’s Media Lab and a member of the advisory board for WebMap Technologies. “It’s important to give these people an intuitive way of rapidly accessing and organizing facts.”

WebMap replaces standard alphanumeric user interfaces — think of the home page of Google or most other search engines — with a topographic- style contour map. The map is divided into territories such as industries, funds, markets, and companies. From your original bird’s-eye view, double-click on a territory, and you zoom in on a new full-screen image, divided into contoured subterritories. You can continue to zoom in on multiple contoured sublevels until you’ve focused on specific data. The closer the relationship between different types of content, the closer they appear on the WebMap display. The more traffic an area gets, the more “mountainlike” that part of the display appears.

Rather than forcing users to adjust how they work with information, the WebMap interface accommodates the human thought process, notes Maes: “People are good at recognizing visual patterns, so WebMap lets users view data interrelationships at a glance.”

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Standard search engines and portals, adds Maes, offer little or no context and often take users down paths that may not lead to relevant information. That’s why the WebMap technology helps boost employee productivity, claims CEO Michael Iron: “WebMap lets employees spend less time looking for the information they need and more time interacting with and acting upon it.”

WebMap Financial Server works with Windows 2000, Unix, and other major operating systems. Site licenses start at $75,000; the final cost depends on the number of employees using the technology.

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