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Visible hierarchy grouping within Timeline views? (Read 3693 times)
Will Ray
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Visible hierarchy grouping within Timeline views?
Apr 22nd, 2011, 10:39am
 
Basically, I think that about sums it up...

I'm interested in trying to track the development, evolution, and final disposition of various outputs from the lab - mostly papers and grant applications - in some fashion that's more usefully intuitive than a simple list.

A timeline seems reasonably obvious as a solution.  However, there's a hierarchical order to the types of things I'd like to represent, and dissociating sub-events from their parent is a critical failure.

Effectively I need to represent things like "Haemophilus iron-uptake manuscript", which might contain events of "first draft", "sent to Nicholas for review", "submitted", "request for revision" -- some of these might be point events, some may have duration, and each of these might contain other sub-events, either single-point or duration.

I think the Timeline view kind-of orders things based on their hierarchy, but it doesn't automatically make the groups visually distinct.  Amongst other things, there's no visual cue regarding sibling/child/parent relationships.

I need to see these all as a discrete "block" in the Timeline.

I could do most of what I what in a fairly manual fashion, I believe, using the timeline bands feature, but I don't think that will handle hierarchical bands, and I believe the bands are perpetual, while I'd like to have the "visual block" stop at the right side (final end date of the parent/container), so that other blocks can assume the same vertical slot at later times (just like individual events relinquish their vertical space when they're finished).  (while there are some other features that would be nice to implement in conjunction with this - like visual "End Dates" for parents that extend to the right automatically to whatever the latest child $EndDate is, if the parent $EndDate is "never", to facilitate representing projects that aren't closed, even though all of their children are completed, or projects that completed, even though some of their child tasks are still open -  I think I have most of the logic for making acceptable proxies of this behavior using agents and rules).

I'm also disinclined to want anything that requires me to manually create the "band" to put stuff in, because I'll inevitably forget, and functionally I want a new "hierarchical band" whenever I create a child within some other date-ranged event.

Any potential joy there?
Will Ray
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Mark Bernstein
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Re: Visible hierarchy grouping within Timeline views?
Reply #1 - Apr 22nd, 2011, 11:54am
 
A sketch of what you have in mind might be helpful.

One possibility is that parent-child relationships might perhaps be indicated typographically -- with parents using a larger, darker typeface and children typographically subordinated. Badges might also be useful.
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Will Ray
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Re: Visible hierarchy grouping within Timeline views?
Reply #2 - Apr 22nd, 2011, 12:38pm
 
I'll see if I can work up a sketch this weekend - unfortunately I'm closing in on a deadline on one of those manuscripts that I'd like to track...

Typographic solutions had come to mind, but they have some limitations (nesting depth), and they don't, to my visual-semantics thinking, visually imply "contained in" relationships - that's more of a conventional interpretation rather than a pre-attentive retinal-variable type assessment.  A "which view am I in" cognizant $DisplayExpression that could also set styling could implement some of this though, and would have some other useful applications as well.

I'm already using badges for other purposes, so at least for me that's less than ideal, though I could see "child of" and "sibling of" badges being useful for faking the visual hierarchy.

I think what I'm proposing, looks a lot like automatic "bands" (probably set to the map-box color/style/etc for the note)  that get created for any notes that contain children (with dates that appear on the timeline),  and the placement of their children automatically within that band. Recurse as necessary.  I would extend this idea by truncating the band on the left and right, based on the start and end dates of the note.

Pathological cases would obviously result when children's start/end dates fell outside their parent's start/end date timeframe.  I think I'd argue that it's the users/some agent's responsibility to make sure that that doesn't happen, and extend the truncated-band metaphor to say that the truncated-band reserves/occludes its vertical slot until such time as all of its contained children are represented, even if the visual representation for it (colored box/band) does not extend that far.  Perhaps an outline box/band could contain all the descendants, and a solid/color/pattern-fill box/band could represent the specific timeframe for the note itself.

I'll try to get a coherent sketch of this together for you ASAP.

Will
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Will Ray
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Re: Visible hierarchy grouping within Timeline views?
Reply #3 - May 6th, 2011, 11:26am
 
I'm sorry this took so long to put together, the submission from hell continued to be the submission from hell, for much longer than expected.

I'm attaching a sketch of how I envision rendering a timeline, with retained hierarchy, and if it works, a Tinderbox document with the sketched data embedded.

The dates (years) roughly match the sketched-in coordinates in the doodle, though there were a couple places where I moved them slightly - the containment relationships should still be correct though.

Note that there is some nuance to the way that I've used start and end-date combinations, and "never".

start=end=date is a point event with no extent.

If a point event contains other events however (Draft out for Review), then it gets both a "dot" point event glyph, and a border that auto-expands to contain any children.

If a defined-period event (start != end != never) has a name too long to be displayed, then it gets truncated (I think it's important to make the box edges match the date delimiters, if they're defined).  I'm not sure about the "can it extend onto 2 lines" issue - probably yes? Probably not good to have a 250-word title wrapping into 20 pixels though..

If start != never, end == never, then it's an open event, without an end date, and the box doesn't close on the right.  (Protein Correlations, Retest Users).

Note that a child User Study may have date ranges that fall outside the parent (conceptual adoption?)   I think it's still important to represent its hierarchy, so the parent needs to continue to occlude the timeline until all children end.  (note that Improve Distance Calc would pop to the top following Info-Vis Submission Window if User Study wasn't forcing Info-Vis Submission Window to expand.  It does this on both ends - Protein Correlations and Info-Vis Submission Window are forced wider to the left by User Study.  (Protein Correlations should have a dashed line down the left, but the scanner lopped it off..)

I don't know what start == never, end != never means, so I haven't thought about how to represent it, but it's probably just the mirror of defined start, undefined end.


Despite the fact that this encapsulates a lot more information than a normal timeline, I think it's a fairly straightforward extension.  Effectively, instead of "thing starts at left date coordinate and occludes its row until right date coordinate", it's "thing creates a box tall enough to contain its children at left date coordinate, and occludes the height of the box until right date coordinate -- recurse for children".



Large version : http://www.mathmed.org/~ray/data/timeline_hierarchy.tiff

Tinderbox File : http://www.mathmed.org/~ray/data/timeline.zip


Thanks much!
Will Ray

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Mark Bernstein
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Re: Visible hierarchy grouping within Timeline views?
Reply #4 - May 6th, 2011, 1:21pm
 
Very interesting!

This is a terrific example of how a design sketch can clarify what's needed, and also focus attention on interesting edge cases and other issues that might not arise immediately.

It'd be interesting to see what others might come up with as representational alternatives.

Have you considered using Map view with adornments?
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Will Ray
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Re: Visible hierarchy grouping within Timeline views?
Reply #5 - May 6th, 2011, 2:36pm
 
If Maps displayed the full depth of the hierarchy, a close relative of this could be constructed that way, but since they're limited to the current level, its children, and a window into their children, a Map wouldn't let me see the complete structure.

This is, possibly not coincidentally, a related display design to the "could we please show links in charts" request I briefly discussed with you (and for which I still owe you a sketch - I've been trying to figure out what I really mean for some of the edge cases there).  In both cases, while I really like the spatial aspects of the Map (my brain seems inescapably fixated on using spatial metaphors for organizing information), I also really need to be able to survey the whole depth and arrangement of the hierarchy without having to "drill down" for more children. Drilling down for content, such as the text of a note is fine, but "where the children are within the big picture" has meaning that I don't want to lose.

I would agitate, should you ever need agitating, for a Map-like view that displayed the entire hierarchy, probably by using a huge canvas, and a "you simply can't get smaller than your children" size constraint for each node.  With that, and script-level control over positioning, I could develop a lot of these ideas as scripted functionality.

Thanks again!
Will
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