A useful thread in exploring panning and zooming is the concept of the zooming user interface (ZUI). Demos of this are especially valuable because they give a detailed view of the power of panning and zooming for navigating an online environment that integrates text and pictures. An elegant example of this is illustrated in the demo from the Raskin Center, shown in the screen-shots below.

Note here in the intro screen (above) that it’s so easy to see where pictures and text are that the large print labels (Pictures, Documents) are really unnecessary. After getting used to the idea that small chunks of text can quickly be zoomed to a readable size, it’s easy to move around the environment. From the intro screen, the Human Interface box is zoomed to the the size below.

The second and third screen-shots (above and below) especially show the power of this sort of interface to integrate pictures and text — The tiny “thumbnail” picture of the Amazon.com page in the screen-shot above zooms to the full-sized page in the screen-shot below.

An interesting sidelight to this narrative is that the Raskin Center, where this demo resides, was founded by Jef Raskin, who launched the Macintosh Project, and is often called the “Father of the Macintosh.”

For more - WikiPedia : Zooming user interface has good links to examples of ZUI’s.

Google recently announced the launch of Google Newspapers. The first issue (and apparently the only one up currently) is the 1969 We’re on the moon edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

What caught my attention here is the ability to pan — to move around on the large newspaper page with the mouse by dragging the hand pointer. Use of mouse panning was introduced with Google Maps, and likely played a large part in its becoming so popular. Like a map, a newspaper page poses the same kind of challenge — How to design user navigation for information covering a large surface. As with Google Maps, here also it looks like Google Newspapers has set the standard for navigation of a large-paged information source, especially one with pictures.

Panning (and zooming, which is often discussed together with it) provide an interesting and challenging concept to search, because the words are in prominent use in other contexts, especially photography and video. Surprisingly, there’s no article in Wikipedia for the concept of panning as used for computer information navigation.

An elegant demonstration of panning is at the Hubble pan and zoom gallery.

Google: “pan around” google newspapers

I wrote last week about the DjVu format that’s among the formats supported by Internet Archive, and why it’s so good for displaying books with pictures. In this post, I’ll detail how to take advantage of DjVu’s picture-viewing capabilities.

For the most part, DjVu is well-documented. It’s widely acknowledged that the DjVu format excels in the online presentation of images/pictures, when compared with PDF, but this is not emphasized as much as it should be. In most discussions of eBooks, the emphasis is on text, and pictures are an afterthought.

This under-emphasis of commentators about the capability of DjVu in presenting books with pictures/images is perhaps related to the fact that the DjVu system itself has surprising design lapses that make it hard for the user to intuit the system’s graphic capabilities.

DjVuThese powerful graphic features are especially related to use of thumbnails, which are much of what makes DjVu so useful for viewing books with pictures.

The thumbnail bar, shown to the left, is the key to navigating the pages of a book. The first hurdle in using this is that, oddly, the default display when a book is first displayed does not show the thumbnail bar. To turn it on, the user has to click the Show/hide thumbnail icon, which hides inconspicuously on the far right side of the toolbar. Turning on the thumbnail bar display can also be done by right clicking anywhere and choosing Layout – Thumbnails (In another odd, unaccountable oversight, the Show/hide thumbnail icon does not appear at all on the toolbar in the Macintosh -Safari version of DjVu, and the user has to use the right-click [or CTRL key] option to turn it on.)

DjVu
The default display of the  thumbnail bar is quite small, so the next step in using it to get a better view of page contents is to enlarge the size of thumbnail images, by dragging the mouse, as shown at left.

The thumbnail bar works smoothly — Thumbnails are loaded rapidly as the user scrolls down to see more. Surprisingly the speed of loading seems to be little affected when the size of thumbnails is enlarged. It’s odd that the default size of images in the thumbnail bar is so small, when the larger size works so well — Another indication, I think, that the DjVu developers are not thinking much about use of the system for viewing books with pictures, since it’s so much easier to see details in pictures with larger thumbnails.

Finally, one more hurdle to using DjVu seems to exist in Internet Archive, which is the largest source of DjVu records — When the DjVu format is chosen in the “View the book” box, the link to open the DjVu file is broken. The way around this is to click All Files: HTTP, which is at the bottom of the “View the book” box. This goes to an index screen listing several formats, and clicking the one that ends in .djvu (usually the first in the list) successfully opens the file in DjVu format. I sent a question about this on Sept 8 to the DjVu.org forum, and have not gotten an answer on Sept 10 — Go here to see the question and to see if it has been answered.

Yogi Berra quote of the day: “You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.”

Suzanne Chapman, at userslib.com, has the interesting tag Pageturners. This term has been used to describe eBook systems that allow the user to have the feel of actually turning the pages of a print book, by clicking an icon or by using the mouse to mimic the motion of turning a paper page.

Like Chapman, I’ve thought of “Pageturners” as a sub-category of eBooks, and have searched in Google for the concept/term. It turns out this is a difficult search term because it gets confused with use of the word to describe “a book so good you can’t put it down.” So use of the word to describe an eBook is, in a way, a cute play on words, but Google doesn’t do well with double-meanings!

Aside from the difficulty of searching, though, the concept is a valid one, and it’s useful to have Chapman’s links on it, especially in this posting and in her Delicious links.

Actually, I think I can see in Chapman’s lists that the meaning of the term has evolved in her mind, and I suspect also in the shared mind of the Net. In what seem to be her earlier links, the sites she links really were “pageturner” eBook systems, which tried to simulate the feel of turning pages in a print book. But other, seemingly later, links seem to broaden the concept to include eBook viewing systems that get away from the idea of simulating print books.

Likewise, on the Net generally, at first it seemed like the goal in designing eBooks was to make them feel as much as possible like print books. But as we get used to the idea of eBooks, it becomes clear, I think, that the best way to design eBooks is not the best way to design print books. Print books have advantages, and eBooks have different advantages. The real challenge of designing eBooks is how to convey their nature and content in the small amount of screen space of a computer window.

In thinking about the presentation of an eBook that features pictures, Google Books, I think, has established the principle that the intro screen for the eBook should communicate clearly that the eBook has pictures …

… Which is not to say that the Google Books About this book – Intro screen is perfect. But for now it has set the standard.

PS to Suzanne Chapman: Thanks for confirming my idea that “Pageturners” is a good tag — I’m adding it too. Though I think it’s an “old design” idea for eBooks, I suspect it will continue to be around for a while more.

Finding a heavily illustrated book that’s in both Google Books (GBS) and Internet Archive (IA) gives a good comparison of the strengths and weaknesses in the way illustrated books are presented in these systems.

Shown below are the “intro” pages for the book in the 2 systems. The clear advantage of the GBS intro page is that the sample thumbnails in the lower right make it immediately obvious that the book has COLOR pictures of good quality.

In Internet Archive the main job of intro screen (below) is to direct the user to options to view the book, in the box in the upper left, and there’s no indication that the book contains pictures.

Even after pulling up the DjVu option to view the book — which is a tricky matter, see how to do it here — there’s no intro screen at all in DjVu, just an imposing blank page waiting for the user to change display options or begin paging through the book sequentially.

DjVuIt’s when the user chooses display options and begins viewing the book that the advantages of DjVu become evident. The most important option, especially if pictures are an important part of the book, as they are in the Mracek Atlas book shown here, is to turn on the thumbnail display bar (at left) by clicking the icon in the lower right corner of the DjVu display window. It then becomes easy to scroll through the thumbnails and get a good view of the nature of the pictures in the book, and how they relate to the text. In the Mracek Atlas, it happens that the first third of the book is all text, and the last two-thirds is mostly pictures, so the user can scroll to the pictures easily.

Use of thumbnails is a good way to provide access to pictures in a book. But as simple and obvious as it is, thumbnail access is lacking in most e-book systems, so both GBS and DjVu are to be applauded for providing it, in their different ways. Here’s a comparison of the two systems …

In GBS, the About this book page gives immediate thumbnail access to a maximum of 30 pictures. Additional pictures have no thumbnail access, and can only be found by scrolling through pages or text searching.

DjVu has the disadvantage of having no Intro page that gives an overview of pictures in the book. But when the user knows how to set the display options, it provides good thumbnail access to an unlimited number of pictures. In a book like he Mracek Atlas, with over 100 pictures, this is a definite advantage.

Postscript: It wasn’t easy to find a book that’s in both GBS and IA, so I was especially pleased to find the Mracek Atlas discussed here that has pictures in Hardin MD! The full citation for the book is: Atlas of diseases of the skin, by Franz Mracek, 1899 [GBS | IA]

Flickr takes the sun out of the sunset“Flickr takes the sun out of the sunset” — The picture to the left from Flickr shows the full picture and its square thumbnail, in the inset. Thumbnails like these are generated automatically by Flickr and other photo management systems. They work by taking a portion from the center to make the thumbnail. This works well if the center has the most important subject in the picture. But if the picture is relatively wide or tall, and its main subject is not in the center, as in the example at left, with the sun being to one side, the thumbnail misses it. Looking at this example (Long Beach Sunset) in Flickr, note that the first thumbnail on the Flickr page (top left) is the one for the larger picture (that’s shown on our page with the thumbnail in yellow-outlined inset).

In large mass-production systems like Flickr, automatic thumbnails are unavoidable, and my point is not that they should never be used. Instead, my point is that, on many levels, pictures require more human input than text to make them optimally usable. Pattern recognition — the simple observation that the thumbnail of a picture of a sunset SHOULD CONTAIN THE SUN — is something that the human brain does easily, but this does not come naturally for a computer.


Another sort of problem in automatic production of thumbnails is making a thumbnail by simply reducing the size of the large picture. If the main subject of the picture is relatively small, it is not visible in a small thumbnail.

The picture to the left is from the Hardin Library ContentDM collection. The inset in the upper right shows the thumbnail that’s generated automatically by the system, which does a poor job of showing details of the picture. The lower inset shows a thumbnail made manually, which gives a much more clear view of the central image in the picture.

Cropping of a picture to produce a thumbnail, as done here, takes more subtle human judgement than the case with the Flickr picture in the first example, where the weakness of automatic production is obvious. With cropping, there’s inevitably a trade-off between showing the whole picture in the thumbnail or showing the most important subject of the picture. In cases such as this one from ContentDM, where most all of the detail in the picture will be lost in a small thumbnail, it seems better to focus on a central image that will show up in the thumbnail.

Finally, a few examples from Hardin MD, below, show how we have done cropping to improve the detail in our thumbnails. The thumbnails on the left in each of the three pairs are made by simply reducing the size of the full picture. On the right in each pair are the thumbnails we use, that we have made by cropping the full picture before making the thumbnail.

The biomedical, scientific pictures that we work with in Hardin MD are fairly easy to make thumbnails for, because they generally have a well-defined focus, that’s usually captured well by automatically-generated thumbnails. More artistic, humanities-oriented pictures, such as the ones discussed here from Flickr and ContentDM, however, often have more subtle subjects, that benefit from the human intelligent touch in the production of thumbnails.

Why an article about a children’s book site? When I first came across the International Children’s Digital Library (ICDL), it immediately struck me as being visually elegant, but could I justify putting it on an academic blog site? The more I thought about it, though, the more it seems very much on target — The theme of this blog is the digitization of pictures, including especially pictures in books. Another theme is that in mass digitization projects, the main concern seems to be text, and that pictures are often overlooked. So, yes, ICDL, with its elegant presentation of pictures and text, is right on target. … And then, of course, finding ICDL in Google as a prime example of a “digital library” seals the deal!

ICDL has many excellent features as a children’s book site e.g. its novel ways to find books, by color, theme, etc and its inclusion of books in a wealth of languages. The aspect of ICDL that I’ll highlight briefly here though, that can serve as a model for any site with illustrated books, is its polished delivery of text and pictures, featured especially in the Book Overview screen, shown below.

Book Overview: Calling the doves = El canto de las palomas

The Mouse-over Preview, that shows an enlarged version of a the thumbnail as the user holds the mouse pointer over it, makes this screen especially effective. To see the nice touches at work here, try changing the window size — As the window is made smaller, the thumbnails also become smaller, so that all of them remain visible. And, even better, the mouse-over preview window does NOT shrink, keeping the same size no matter how small the thumbnails become.

Though ICDL lacks some features of a full-fledged enterprise book-viewing system (text is not available as text), its innovative presentation of book pages serves to show how far existing systems have to go in presenting books with pictures — There’s just no substitute for displaying small versions of the book’s pages that show the pictures and how they relate to the text, and ICDL is a model of how to do this.

ICDL has its roots at the University of Maryland; it’s now run by the ICDL Foundation. It’s written in Java. For more technical details, see paper by ICDL authors.

University of Utah has long been a pioneer in the digitization of medical visual resources, under the leadership of the Eccles Health Sciences library. Utah is especially notable for the wide variety of its resources, with strong collections in several basic biomedical and clinical areas.

Most of the Eccles digital image collections are listed on the Digital Collections page, although they’re mixed in with resources from other sites around the US, and sometimes difficult to identify as having been developed at Utah. Several of the Utah collections are described below.

NOVEL is the Neuro-Ophthalmology Virtual Education Library. This collaborative effort between Eccles Library and the North American Neuro-Ophthalmology Society (NANOS), brings together 11 collections of visual resources from personal working in the discipline around the US.

NOVEL is the only one of the Utah segments that uses the ContentDM digital collection management system. ContentDM is widely used by libraries in the US for historical/archival subjects, but for some reason it’s rarely used for biomedical or scientific subjects. The NOVEL project is notable because it’s one of the few sites anywhere that does this.

In addition to pictures, some of the collections in NOVEL also have videos. A good example of this is the collection of Shirley H. Wray, from Harvard Medical School — See link below for Nerve Palsy.

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WebPath, the Internet Pathology Laboratory for Medical Education, includes over 1900 pictures along with text and tutorials. It was developed by Edward C. Klatt MD in the Pathology Dept at Utah; Klatt is now on the faculty at Florida State University. The heart of the WebPath collection for disease-specific pictures is in the Systematic Pathology section, which has images broken down by organ system.

Notable in the Knowledge Weavers section of the Eccles site is the Dermatology Image Bank, done in collaboration with dermatologist John L. Bezzant. This contains striking dermatologic pictures, which are often found by Google Image Search. Knowledge Weavers also includes well-known sites such as Slice of Life and HEAL.

medicalgenetics_20.JPG Another interesting digital resource at Utah, which is not associated with the library, is pictures from the prominent medical textbook, Medical Genetics (lead author Lynn Jorde, published by Mosby). This site also includes some pictures from WebPath. medicalgenetics_twins_65.JPG

The Digital Library Collections at Yale Medical Library are notable for several reasons, especially the apparent emphasis that’s being given to the effort by the library’s administration — The digital collections section of their website is featured prominently on all of the Collections pages on their site, as shown below.

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Yale is unusual for other reasons — They are one of the few medical/health sciences libraries that have included biomedical/scientific pictures in their digitization efforts, in addition to the historical/archival subjects more commonly done by libraries using content management systems. Also, Yale is unusual in using Greenstone software for digital content management, rather than the more commonly used ContentDM.

The main grouping of digital resources at Yale are described on the Digital Library Collections page. This includes 7 collections, which are mainly historical, but also includes the Pathology Teaching Collection (see sample below), which continues to be used as a teaching resource at Yale. The resources in this section, done with Greenstone, have metadata descriptions, and are searchable.

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Pathology Teaching Collection
Fuchs Herbal

Other resources are available on the Electronic Texts in the History of Medicine page. This includes 13 historical works, some of which are notable for their illustrations — See example above from Fuchs’ pioneering 16th century herbal, Primi de stirpivm. Also notable are colored illustrations from the herbal of Christian Egenolff. The Electronic Text sources appear to be image scans only (apparently not done with Greenstone), with no metadata, or other associated text, so they unfortunately are not searchable.

About Greenstone — Yale is one of the few US groups using this digital library system, which originated in New Zealand, and is used widely in other countries. Here’s a list of Greenstone sites.

Over the last three years, we have added close to 800 pictures on about 100 diseases/conditions to Hardin MD.

As the volume of pictures has grown, providing access to them becomes more difficult. For some time, we have grouped pictures on specific disease conditions into small galleries, each with about 3-12 pictures (ant bites, athletes foot, atopic dermatitis below). Recently, however, we have expanded the gallery format, broadening it into larger gallery collections, which have links to the smaller galleries.

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Use of the gallery format has been very effective in increasing access to our pictures — We are finding that users are much more likely to click thumbnail disease links deeper on the page than when a list of text links is provided.

In addition to the gallery collection pages for AIDS, cancer, and child diseases, which are shown on the gallery gateway page above, there are also gallery collections for foot problems, herpes, insect bites, mouth sores, nail problems, oral diseases, skin rashes, STD’s, and tropical diseases, all of which are linked on the inclusive gallery page.