I love the quote "Writing about Art is like Dancing about Architecture" – not sure who to attribute it to though – Google suggests too many different options – but it’s so true. Another way of saying this of course is "A picture is worth a thousand words".
Imagine looking at the map of the London Underground or the New York Subway system as a textual document describing all the possible train routes and connection options?
I could go on about human cognitive science, the benefits of ‘chunking & chaining’, information maps – but I won’t because ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ is good enough for most of us.
However as a software industry we are slow to perceive the fundamental benefits of information visualization and are still largely developing applications that relegate visualization to presentations or reports.
While WYSIWYG productivity applications allow us to produce these powerful visually – empowered documents or presentations we are still required to author them using an approach based on the ‘linear delivery model’ of the document – i.e. page 1 then page 2. That is to say we interact with them based on the format of the document we are creating.
But most people do not think linearly, how many of us can list (say) the 10 most important aspects of any subject in order of priority straight off; let alone fill in the details as we go. Yet we are using productivity applications that ‘force’ the majority of us to think in an entirely unnatural manner! Most of us regularly use whiteboards in conference rooms, offices and along corridors so we can ‘think’ out loud (‘brainstorm’), communicate and share new ideas with others in a dynamic visual fashion.
Now enterprise applications are a different ‘kettle of fish’ – they require users to interact with them in way that is far more reflective of their underlying database structure. They are focused on information storage and reports and frankly this has not really changed that much since the ‘green screen’ era of mainframes 30 years ago. Go and look at any CRM system – for the most part there are all forms and tab-based. This is not an ideal approach for the information worker, ask yourself when was the last time a form inspired any creative thinking? Yet selling is a highly creative human-centric business process whose success determines the overall success of any business. Go figure.
So what – well my point is this – I believe that there is a new important trend emerging – Information Visualization and Management – that is going to have a significant impact on the way users work with information. I am talking about an information interface or visual workplace in which users can simply capture, create, aggregate, organize, view and interact and share the information they need using the applications and data sources that are relevant to their responsibilities. The focus becomes the context of the information and not the application serving it. This will decouple the application interface from the information and free business teams to engage and collaborate using information in a far more effective (i.e creative) fashion than is now possible.
Enter Mindjet, actually we have been selling applications based on information mind mapping for a number of years and have built a very enthusiastic and passionate global user base of over 500,000 for our MindManager product. See Hobie’s blog.
As we grow our business we are evolving to address the bigger opportunity for information visualization. I was recently at Demo @15! launching our new Accelerator Solutions initiative to apply an interactive visual layer to enterprise application and web-based information. At the event we showcased our Salesforce.com Accelerator to deliver rich visual maps of customer information to help sales team shorten sales cycles and communicate pipeline status to management. Feedback so far has been highly positive.
I’ll post more as we continue to develop this story.
Chris Holmes, Vice President of Business Development