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A tool for exploring space-time patterns : an animation user research

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Author(s): Ogao Patrick

Journal: International Journal of Health Geographics
ISSN 1476-072X

Volume: 5;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 35;
Date: 2006;
Original page

ABSTRACT
Abstract Background Ever since Dr. John Snow (1813–1854) used a case map to identify water well as the source of a cholera outbreak in London in the 1800s, the use of spatio-temporal maps have become vital tools in a wide range of disease mapping and control initiatives. The increasing use of spatio-temporal maps in these life-threatening sectors warrants that they are accurate, and easy to interpret to enable prompt decision making by health experts. Similar spatio-temporal maps are observed in urban growth and census mapping – all critical aspects a of a country's socio-economic development. In this paper, a user test research was carried out to determine the effectiveness of spatio-temporal maps (animation) in exploring geospatial structures encompassing disease, urban and census mapping. Results Three types of animation were used, namely; passive, interactive and inference-based animation, with the key differences between them being on the level of interactivity and complementary domain knowledge that each offers to the user. Passive animation maintains the view only status. The user has no control over its contents and dynamic variables. Interactive animation provides users with the basic media player controls, navigation and orientation tools. Inference-based animation incorporates these interactive capabilities together with a complementary automated intelligent view that alerts users to interesting patterns, trends or anomalies that may be inherent in the data sets. The test focussed on the role of animation passive and interactive capabilities in exploring space-time patterns by engaging test-subjects in thinking aloud evaluation protocol. The test subjects were selected from a geoinformatics (map reading, interpretation and analysis abilities) background. Every test-subject used each of the three types of animation and their performances for each session assessed. The results show that interactivity in animation is a preferred exploratory tool in identifying, interpreting and providing explanations about observed geospatial phenomena. Also, exploring geospatial data structures using animation is best achieved using provocative interactive tools such as was seen with the inference-based animation. The visual methods employed using the three types of animation are all related and together these patterns confirm the exploratory cognitive structure and processes for visualization tools. Conclusion The generic types of animation as defined in this paper play a crucial role in facilitating the visualization of geospatial data. These animations can be created and their contents defined based on the user's presentational and exploratory needs. For highly explorative tasks, maintaining a link between the data sets and the animation is crucial to enabling a rich and effective knowledge discovery environment.

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