The Via Lucis site is a densely populated collection of over 2000 photographs, drawings, and maps, and over 350 articles, increasing at the rate of about 120 per year. Photographs are often used to illustrate specific church sites or general articles on medieval architecture, art, and history. This creates a tightly interleaved relationship of materials that is increasingly difficult to parse.
For example, if a reader would like to know about the Basilica of Saint-Etienne in Caen, it might be necessary to find articles on that church, its sister-church Sainte Trinité in Caen, its founder William the Conquerer, his wife Queen Mathilda, or his step-brother Bishop Odo. There are also references to Saint Etienne in our articles about medieval vaulting, sexpartite vaulting, and pseudo-sexpartite vaulting. There are also references and photos in articles about Norman Romanesque architecture and decor. And that is just material produced by and for Via Lucis!
When David McDonell approached us about using their new Iconicloud visualization Toolkit to represent the complex relationships of our materials, we were delighted, although a bit skeptical. Imagine our delight when we started looking at the prototype! We were able to see the clusters or clouds of similar materials grouped together. By clicking on an image thumbnail we were able to see the link to the original article, see the original photo in its native resolution, and scroll through all of the other images in that particular cloud. In this way we were able to find related images and articles with incredible ease.
We were also able to skim the surface of the mass of material and dive in at will and explore. Iconicloud presents an entirely different way of looking at the totality of a site. It works both as a “browsing” tool and as a research tool, serving as a powerful form of visual indexing. In the future, we can see how an image-intensive site – or for that matter any site replete with rich, mixed media content – that is organized using Iconicloud can tie into and correlate the local material into other relevant material across the massive library that is the worldwide web. This is a compelling step towards a visual, semantic web of knowledge, and we are excited to be part of this pioneering effort with David and his team.
In the next article, we will give a demo on how Iconicloud works, but meantime, here is some information on the company and on the Via Lucis ICONICLOUD demo. When the demo page comes up, select the ICONICLOUD “IC” demo in the upper right corner. And then enjoy the ride.