Zooming, Context, and Detail: Design Decisions

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matt
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Sat Jan 09, 2010 10:53 pm Post

Please note: this discussion was split from the original discussion on Beta 0.4.3

Continued from discussion...
As I think you agreed with in an email, I am not sure I like the whole side margin thing anyway, so I intend to address it when I find a better way to do it (any suggestions are welcome on a good way to show an overview of everything at the same time as looking at the more focused detail - I.e. Detail in context). I really need to find a copy of Tufte's book, but I still haven't found one in any stores I look.

Matt

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Spitfire31
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Sun Jan 10, 2010 4:42 am Post

matt wrote:…As I think you agreed with in an email, I am not sure I like the whole side margin thing anyway, so I intend to address it when I find a better way to do it (any suggestions are welcome on a good way to show an overview of everything at the same time as looking at the more focused detail - I.e. Detail in context)…
Matt

I won't miss the Context Bar… ;-) But the Time Margin itself is rather fundamental, isn't it?

I completely agree that a basic issue is how to present an overview of the time line while making it easy and intuitive to get a more detailed view of events that are so close together that they tend to fuse in the overview.

As I've expressed before, I'm sceptical about the nonlinear concept, at least in its current guise – to have part of the time line in a different timescale from the rest of it. To me, it's counter-intuitive and confusing to see the same graphical scale intervals signifying months and decades, depending on where in the time line you look. It somehow defeats the very idea of a time line which should by definition (IMHO) be a linear graphical representation, readable at a glance without my having to check the legend for orientation in various places along the same time line.

I once saw a time line illustrating the evolution of life on Earth. It used some kind of logarithmic scale, showing the evolution of man (a million years) with the same scale delimiter as the reign of the dinosaurs (hundreds of millions of years). Very easy to misunderstand and virtually impossible to grasp at a glance…

My personal preference would be to opt for a consequent, linear time line structure, but one that is very easily expanded or compressed (still in a linear manner).

For instance, I'd feel comfortable with a design that lets me hover (without clicking) over a crowded part of the Time Margin while expanding/contracting the time scale using Alt+scroll wheel, with the focus remaining on the Events I hover over. Rather like magnifying the image view in Photoshop, as it were.

Anyway, there's no doubt that the presentation of the time line is a crucial issue for Aeon TL. Hopefully more beta testers can chime in with their ideas. I'm sure Amber V has some well thought out arguments for one model or other…

Best regards and thank you for all your hard work,

Joachim

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igregor
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Sun Jan 10, 2010 1:32 pm Post

matt wrote:... suggestions are welcome on a good way to show an overview of everything at the same time as looking at the more focused detail - I.e. Detail in context...

Matt


Something that would "auto-magnify" as the timeline is scrolled would be nice -- along the lines of the Apple Dock Magnification. No clue of the technical challenges that this presents, though.
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Sun Jan 10, 2010 10:39 pm Post

Yes, I was referring to the context bar, as opposed to the time margin. You would think I would get my own terminology right!

I am going to add a linear option back in, so that users have a choice of either in settings.

I have thought about having something that can auto-expand as the mouse follows it (that was my original idea for the context bar), but I am still not entirely sure on how the implementation would work. One option would be for it to follow the mouse, but I wonder if having things suddenly jump around as the mouse moves would make it harder to do all the other things you need to do with your mouse.

I should probably try to find some video or audio editing software that does this kind of job well, as I think they would deal with similar problems. Does anyone have any good suggestions for well-designed software in this field that I should look at.

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Spitfire31
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Mon Jan 11, 2010 4:59 am Post

Hi,

Off the top of my head, one of the most elegant solutions to the challenge of easily and intuitively zooming into a detailed view in a linear environment is the audio editor TwistedWave <http://twistedwave.com/> by the talented French developer Thomas Thiriez.

TW_1.jpg
TW_1.jpg (86.63 KiB) Viewed 1327 times

The top 'orientation' pane is always showing the the entire file waveform, the pink part indicating the horisontally (time domain) zoomed-in portion visible in the lower (editing) pane.

You can expand (zoom out) or contract (zoom in) the pink area using the mouse scroll wheel. To actually scroll the waveform in the editing pane, you use SHIFT+scroll wheel. I'd perhaps prefer it the other way around, but that's really nitpicking. When using the scroll wheel, the pink, zoomed area will automatically center on the insertion cursor (yellow bar).

In addition, you can drag the edges of the pink area with the mouse cursor to enlarge or contract the area asymmetrically. All changes are, of course, immediately reflected in the lower, editing pane.

TW_2.jpg
TW_2.jpg (97.44 KiB) Viewed 1327 times

Further, you can slide the pink area around by dragging inside it with the mouse cursor as the above screen dump shows.

All in all, this system makes navigation really smooth and intuitive and it's possibly the best solution I've come across in the many different media editors I regularly use.

There's a 30 day full featured demo of TwistedWave and it can open any mp3 file as well as pro audio formats. Besides, Thomas is a friendly and approachable person (as well as a very accomplished inline skater) and I suspect he might be willing to come up with a hint or two.

In fact, the 'orientation pane' in TwistedWave isn't that different in principle from the Context Bar, if you turn the TW GUI 90 degrees CCW, though rather more developed, as it were.

I think that handlig and editing an audio file isn't that far removed from a story time line – you want the overview and you also want to dive in for details. TW and other audio editors, such as DSP Quattro, which uses a very similar orientation metaphor, show how it could be done without entering the slippery slope of nonlinear display.

HTH a bit…

Best,

Joachim

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Mon Jan 11, 2010 11:30 am Post

I was going to suggest you look at Amadeus Pro from Hairersoft. I guess it's not that different from TwistedWave — which I don't know — is not expensive if you want to buy ... USD40 ... and Martin Hairer another independent, individual programmer, in my experience is very helpful and responsive.

I see his website still lists Amadeus II, necessary if you haven't even upgraded to 10.4, which I think works similarly though without the multi-track capabilities and recent improvements. I think that's now only USD 25.

I suspect you get a trial period too, but I've been using Amadeus II and Amadeus Pro for so long, I can't, for the life of me, remember.
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Spitfire31
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Tue Jan 12, 2010 2:13 am Post

xiamenese wrote:I was going to suggest you look at Amadeus Pro from Hairersoft. I guess it's not that different from TwistedWave …
I suspect you get a trial period too, but I've been using Amadeus II and Amadeus Pro for so long, I can't, for the life of me, remember.


Good point to mention Amadeus! You're right – the basic navigation I outlined above in TwistedWave is almost identical to Amadeus Pro (AP), which I just downloaded from http://www.hairersoft.com/AmadeusPro/Am ... tures.html (there's a 30 day demo period just like TW).

The only differences I could spot in a brief check-out is that AP doesn't have the insertion cursor represented in the top overview pane. Also, the animation seems a bit smoother in TW, but for the purpose of illustrating a navigation priniple, they're both virtually the same.

Best,

Joachim

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Tue Jan 12, 2010 3:38 am Post

That system is kind of what I was aiming for with the "context bar", albeit that is obviously a lot more polished at present. The context bar shows where you are, a bar for each event, and if you click the mouse on it you can jump directly to that area.

The problem is, I don't feel that the context bar is providing much additional information - i.e. I don't think it really gives you the context you are after.

In audio it works okay, because the height of the bar conveys information. In Aeon, there are marks for each event on the context bar, but it doesn't really help to see events scattered everywhere when you can't tell what they are.

It is made more complicated also by the fact that both the Entity View and the Story Arc view have to do things to deal with collisions, so that, especially in the case of the Entity View, what you see in the context will not directly match what you see below.

I have been tinkering for a while with a couple of ideas that might be relevant to this discussion. In all cases, these are far from complete ideas that may get thrown out at the current design stage and taken no further - but I will raise them here in case others can add supporting ideas (or raise valid criticism):

  1. For providing "context" in the Story Arc View, I am considering adding a "Context HUD" (i.e. semi-transparent, moveable/hideable window). The intention would be for this to provide the overview context similar to the context bar, but for the Story Arc View. This could be adapted to work with the Entity View as well, so that it is not always taking up screen space, but available when needed. It could be evoked and hidden with a shortcut (same as the Inspector), and have mouse or keyboard control while it is visible to jump to different areas.

    I haven't thought this through fully yet - I will probably design some test windows just to see how it will go - but it is one option.


  2. I am also considering the option of having a split view, as Scrivener does, that would allow you to look at two different areas of the timeline at the same time. Each would scroll and zoom independently, and probably be able to filter events independently as well, and you could view Entity and Story Arc Views at the same time.

    The biggest problem with this idea would be screen real estate, and that each view is better suited to a different split orientation. But if those could be overcome, this may provide more flexibility in how people use the system.


  3. The third thing I am considering is the idea of having nested timelines as a way to group events, and show or hide detail as required. For example, you may have "World War II" as an event that contains a nested timeline. A lot of the time, you might work with that event marked on a larger timeline, but not want to see the individual details. When you do want to see the detail, it could either be expanded in-place in the existing timeline, or you could double click on the event to drill down and see just that timeline (breadcrumbs, or similar, would allow you to navigate back up the timeline).

    Again, there are numerous problems to iron out, but this could combine well with the split view to allow you to see detail in a top view, and then view specific information lower-down in the story arc.

    I think this is similar to how some video editing systems work, where you design particular sequences at a lower level, but then re-order those sequences at a higher level. Again, allowing you to zoom in to detail only when you want it.

    Thinking about it now, this could be combined with the scroll-wheel auto zoom that Joachim has suggested, as "nested timelines/event groups" could automatically expand as you zoom in, or collapse as you zoom out.

And finally - yes it is obvious that I will need to do something about keeping a selected event centred as things zoom - and probably make the zoom smoother in general.

Matt

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Tue Jan 12, 2010 12:58 pm Post

matt wrote:The third thing I am considering is the idea of having nested timelines as a way to group events, and show or hide detail as required.


One vote here for nested timelines. On most previous projects, my narrative covered a relatively short time span -- typically less than two years. Now, I'm trying to orchestrate events and characters over 50+ years; being able to narrow down then move back out would help immensely.

Phil
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Thu Jan 14, 2010 7:24 am Post

Interesting thoughts!

The overriding consideration, for me anyway, is to get rid of the 'automatic nonlinearity'. The idea might have looked great on paper, but in reality, I get strange results like this:

Bild 1.png
Bild 1.png (71.09 KiB) Viewed 1249 times

Please note how the 1940s-1960s segment, with five events, hashalf the resolution compared to the 1960s-1980s, with a mere two events! The 1980s-2000s, with no event at all, retain this resolution while it gets thoroughly absurd as we enter the 2000s, suddenly with a resolution of 500 years!

So, hopefully, pretty please, scrap the nonlinear concept utterly and brutally. It just doesn't work from the perceptual point of view, IMO.

Nested timelines sounds like a neat idea, provided it could be implemented intuitively and transparently. I'm a little bit sceptical that we're going to be invited to a clicking fest, which I feel would defeat the purpose a bit. But it might work.

The idea of combining Event view with History arc view in a split screen arrangement sounds enticing but, as Matt noted, the big problem is that the one view is by nature oriented vertically, while the other one is equally naturally horisontal. Not easy…

In fact, the prize would go to the genius who could solve this Gordic knot with one fell swoop of the sword and combine the two views in the same window. Without having any alternative idea, I tend to feel that two separate views are a bit of a kludge, but maybe it's not possible any other way?

I still feel that the simplest (though perhaps not from the programmer's POW) solution would just be to have the time line, in both views, expandable/contractable using the mouse scroll wheel with the cursor hover location as the centre point. With a few twirls of the wheel, you could go from overview to detail without the need for nesting, and with Shift+ scroll wheel, you could scroll the events at the current level of maginification.

If this action were smooth and fast enough, there would be no need for a Context bar. First and foremost, it would be simple and intuitive. And of course, the method should work the same way in both views, Event and Story arc.

FWIW,

Joachim

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Thu Jan 14, 2010 12:00 pm Post

Not as elegant as TW, but free, Audacity <http://audacity.sourceforge.net/> also allows nearly-infinite zoom-in on a track. The purpose -- getting rid of a mini-second glitch, for instance -- does not translate well into Aeon, but the idea -- detailed examination of a track -- does. I've found the current story-arc view frustrating, as Joachim has outlined above. And to contradict my earlier post, I think being able to zoom in on one time line would ultimately be easier and more useful than jumping around to several different expanded lines.

Phil
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Thu Jan 14, 2010 4:06 pm Post

If I can do a bit of history of the sound editors (I would need a timeline app to keep track of every title...), the overview running over the zoomed detail was already in the early Sound Designer, circa 1987. It is indeed a very practical way of have the whole and the detail under control, and could work for a timeline as well.

Paolo

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Thu Jan 14, 2010 11:29 pm Post

Hi guys,
This is now majorly off-topic from the original post, and is turning into a fairly important discussion, so I will separate it out into its own topic.

I agree with you all that part of the solution will have to involve a smoother scroll-wheel based zooming feature than we currently have, and this is something I will work to improve.

Zooming for Context
I will talk about 'Entity View' here, but the Story Arc View has analogous problems:

The issue with zooming out for context, and in for detail, however, is that as you zoom out, you are not really reducing the amount of information on display, but just squashing it together and making it harder to follow. A well-handled zoom might allow for a quick navigation, but you can''t really zoom out to get a broad overview of what is happening, because all the events are still there, just butting up against each other and with their textual position no longer reflecting the timeline reality.

Unless zooming out can actually reduce the number of 'minor detail' events that are visible in some way, you will not be able to escape the detail. One way to do this is to have some sort of event nesting or heirarchy (perhaps this can be handled by dragging and dropping events onto other events within the timeline, or perhaps an outliner view should be added, as with Scrivener). Using this heirarchy, as you zoom out, if you reach a point where too many events are in an area to be displayed neatly, the program could automatically collapse these nested event groups (or nested timelines), so that all of your events from "The War" are reduced to a single event showing when "The War" occurred.

Another alternative to the event groups would be to assign an importance level to each event (possibly globally, or maybe a per-character basis would be better, and you select which character POV you are dealing with at the time?). As you zoom out, the least important events would be the first to go.

Both of these obviously have the issue of requiring the user to spend more time organising events (I know I have never rated my iTunes songs because it is just too tedious), but I think for a proper zoom to context to work, being able to hide the less important events is probably critical.

Non-linear timeline
I am still unsure on this issue. At the very least I will make it a user option to turn off, but I have had a lot of users who like the fact that it can collapse in a way that displays more information at once. There are certainly issues with it in practice, as Joachim has pointed out, but at least some of those may be implementation errors on my part (and therefore fixable), rather than a sign that the entire concept is flawed.

Aside from Joachim, who has voted quite clearly on the issue (:mrgreen:), what do others think?

Merging the Entity View and Story Arc view
I would love to be able to do this, if anyone can come up with a suitable arrangement that would keep it clean and elegant, and not stuff too much information onto a single page. I think the Story Arc View is the more user friendly and attractive of the two views, so it would probably be in terms of getting Entity information onto that view.

Does anyone have any ideas?

Context Bar
In general, the idea of a context bar is still a good one. I haven't yet downloaded the suggested programs - will do so this weekend - but the general description seems to be pretty similar to what I was aiming with in Aeon's context bar. But something about it doesn't quite seem right. Is it the missing dates? Does it not convey enough information? Is it just that without the smoother auto-zooming being discussed, it doesn't properly feel like part of the interface?

Thanks,
Matt

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Fri Jan 15, 2010 2:17 am Post

matt wrote:The issue with zooming out for context, and in for detail, however, is that as you zoom out, you are not really reducing the amount of information on display, but just squashing it together and making it harder to follow. A well-handled zoom might allow for a quick navigation, but you can''t really zoom out to get a broad overview of what is happening, because all the events are still there, just butting up against each other and with their textual position no longer reflecting the timeline reality.


I think the challenge you face with timeline & event zooming is that they are discrete and non-linear -- and thereby much closer to the problem of zooming calendars and GPS/maps than zooming A/V apps. While A/V apps lend themselves to straight forward linear scaling of frequency, amplitude, graphics, etc., calendar and GPS/map apps don't. Somehow, you'll have to set how much info will be displayable at each discrete level of detail (hour, day, week, month, year, etc.). Then users could choose to scroll at the lowest level of detail that suits them, and zoom as necessary to higher levels of detail.

matt wrote:Non-linear timeline


I like the idea of a non-linear timeline, but appreciate concerns of others who don't. So, would favor being able to turn it on and off.

Thanks.
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Fri Jan 15, 2010 12:48 pm Post

Would it be simpler (more feasible) if, instead of infinite zoom, there was a discrete set of steps?
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