Rockwell & Bradley, "Eye-ConTact"

3. How Eye-ConTact Deals with the Identified Limitations

How does Eye-ConTact deal with the limitations identified in the first part of this paper?
3.1 Extending: Any module can be replaced, as can the framework.

3.2 Recording: Visual maps record and show the logic of one's exploration.

3.3 Sharing: Alternative frameworks allow one to share results.

3.1 Extending with Modularity

Eye-ConTact deals with the issue of extension by encouraging modularity. Not only does Eye-ConTact consist of a collection of modules, including the framework module, but it also presents the user with a modular interface paradigm. The user is encouraged to think of a text analysis project as a flow of data from one module to another. Eye-ConTact is, in effect, a tool for managing smaller modules and passing data from one to the other.

Eye-ConTact goes further in the support of modularity. It has built-in tools for adding modules or repurposing existing code to act as modules. The extension tools include:

3.2 Recording with Maps

Eye-Contact deals with the problem of recording the logic of an exploration by encouraging the user to lay out the fundamental steps in a visual environment. The user creates the logic by dragging out icons and "connecting the dots". This has the advantage of acting as both a record of the flow of choices made and a synoptic description of  that flow, which should make the research easier to grasp. John Bradley experimented  in TACT with a macro language that could record activities and replay them. This had the disadvantage that it was hard to "read" the macro file, let alone change the process. Graphical representation shows the logic in a more intuitive way. With the help of these records, users can build new projects, show and exchange them, and, finally, create custom applications that hide the logic.

Eye-ConTact also has an annotation tool that allows one to insert comments on the Map and attach them to particular operations. This is to encourage verbose and contextualized discussion of the project. Such annotations are particularly useful when the Map is to be shared.

One outcome of the Eye-ConTact approach is that it forces the user to map out the logic of his or her exploration before generating any results. From one perspective this is a disadvantage. The novice who does not have a research agenda, but is simply testing the tool, will have to make a map before he or she can see anything. By contrast, interactive tools can present the user with a default collection of displays (the word list, the KWIC list, and a full text display) already to be clicked on. The user can learn about text analysis by clicking on any of the displays and watching what happens in the others. While Eye-ConTact does not offer this sort of immediate feedback, it can be used to create such interactive tools. If we think of Eye-ConTact as a visual programming tool, it can be used by experts to create applications that are interactive and immediate. In fact, in Eye-ConTact one can, in theory, create any other type of text analysis tool.

One design issues that the Eye-ConTact prototype has raised is the degree of detail to be shown on Map display. If the Map is to show the logic of a project it needs to show more than generic icons for operations whose details are hidden in forms. At the same time, there are operations (especially displays) whose details would be too verbose to be shown on the Map. What we need is to find a way to let the user spill out the details and some of the resulting displays onto the Map so that it can serve as a reasonably complete representation of the whole.

3.3 Sharing with Alternative Frameworks

With its visual programming paradigm, the Eye-ConTact Framework is only one possible user interface. If the framework module which manages the modules and the user interface is treated as one more replaceable module then one can share applications with alternative frameworks that present alternative user interfaces. The researcher should be able to create an interactive package for the audience, once interesting results have been mapped out. The audience could be students or scholars. Such interactive publications would have the following features: We envisage two types of publications that Eye-ConTact is being designed to support: [Return to Table of contents] -- [Continue]