University of Twente Student Theses


Collaborative mapping and dissemination of spatio-temporal data through a web-based virtual globe application

Yovcheva, Zornitza Ivanova (2010) Collaborative mapping and dissemination of spatio-temporal data through a web-based virtual globe application.

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Abstract:The need to coordinate efforts in environmental sciences has always been strong. This is even more relevant (and complex) at present when dispersed teams of researchers struggle to extract and communicate useful information from an increasing amount of spatio-temporal data. Recent updates in Google Earth, providing the possibility to couple cartographic animation with rapid real-time information dissemination, seem to make this software a suitable solution. As this and similar web-based applications mature, however, the challenge is no longer the technology, but rather to make such tools more useful and usable. This means that we need to place users and interactions, instead of processes and tools, at the centre of design. Unfortunately, the current focus of development of geo-collaborative tools is directed mainly towards a broad range of non-expert users. In contrast, significantly less attention is given to domain expert users who work with spatiotemporal data on distributed research projects where visualization can serve as a mediator for presenting results and coordinating actions. In parallel, user-centered design and empirical evaluations of web-based virtual globes are still very rare, which often leads to developed functionality which is neither used, nor suitable for its intended purpose. To fill this gap, a user-centered design approach was adopted in the development of a geo-collaborative web-based virtual globe prototype, designed for environmental researchers working with spatio-temporal data in dispersed teams of researchers. Several methodological issues had to be solved throughout this study before gaining knowledge on user requirements. Relevant user characteristics influencing user requirements were explored through a dedicated on-line survey. A user profile was compiled where the main differences were in the data used for analysis, the resulting products to be communicated further as well as the frequency and the nature of communication with team-members. These user attributes served to extend a hypothetical use case scenario and identify a set of concrete usability goals which the conceptual design of the application strived to satisfy through specific design elements. Consequently, a low-fidelity prototype, a set of questions in a trial interview and focused group discussion generated a list of additional user requirements. The obtained results served to observe user reactions to the interface and planned functionality, as well as to identify possible barriers for collaborative activities. This allowed preparing the prototype for the next stage of this research, specifically directed towards evaluating its real use with representative users. After re-design, a high-fidelity prototype was developed through the Google Earth API and Ruby on Rails. It was further tested in a number of dedicated usability tests in controlled laboratory settings. The outcome reveals the main advantages and disadvantages of such novel environment to support group work with animated maps. In terms of presentation of spatio-temporal data in a collaborative environment, the main limitation of the Google Earth API is the lack of possibility to synchronize fully the visual displays among users.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:ITC: Faculty of Geo-information Science and Earth Observation
Programme:Geoinformation Science and Earth Observation MSc (75014)
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