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How to Create an Orbital Information Management Map (OIM2)

Orbital Information Management Maps (OIM2) are designed to provide intuitive ways of understanding and using dynamic information. These maps allow users to conceive, organize, and perceive information in motion.

OIM2 can be considered as a dynamic and multidimensional conceptual, organizational, and perceptual framework. It does not replace the alphabetic matrix; it enhances it. OIM2 is designed with utmost simplicity, employing two basic elements (see Figure 5):

  • Objects
  • Orbits

Figure 5Figure 5 Creating an Orbital Information Map can be conceptualized in six steps.

"The web [of change] can be imagined as a gigantic and ever-growing sphere in space and time, made up of millions of interconnecting, crisscrossing pathways, each one of which is a timeline (a series of points that represent moments when someone of something acted to affect that sequence of events)."

Source: James Burke, The Pinball Effect.

Step 1: Collect Information Elements: These Become Objects

Break down information elements into any convenient or necessary way of grouping your subject matter. For example, any or all of the following may be an object:

  • A topic such as pediatric rheumatoid arthritis

  • A page from Arthritis & Rheumatism (the official journal of the American College of Rheumatology)

  • An article in this journal: "Etanercept Versus Methotrexate in Patients with Early Rheumatoid Arthritis: Two-Year Radiographic and Clinical Outcomes"

  • A rheumatology book: Raising a Child with Arthritis: A Parent's Guide

  • A patient audiotape: "How to Keep an Arthritis Journal"

  • A CD-ROM on primary care for the rheumatology patient

  • Photos of children's fingers exhibiting Raynaud's syndrome

  • A graphic of the forms of scleroderma that affect children

Step 2: Digitize Those Objects

Once digitized, the information can be arranged and rearranged.

Step 3: Assign Parameters to the Objects

Assigning parameters is essentially tagging the information for later use. Assign tags that are readily understandable for your purposes. These tags can be placed within a document—at various points across a page or pages—or they can be used to group objects.

Step 4: Embedding Objects

Loosely related objects can be configured to create an embedded object (see Figure 6).

Figure 6Figure 6 Sketch showing the utility of using the embedded object to encapsulate a person in a criminal investigation.

Contextual information is evolving to become embedded information. Today context defines the purpose and meaning of most information. Soon the context itself will become virtually invisible as the information becomes embedded in a myriad of products and services.

Here are six points to remember when creating the embedded object, which is essentially a new way of relating and coordinating information:

  1. View information as a nexus, not only as a headline and story.

  2. As a nexus, the information will attract relatedness like a magnet.

  3. Use information relatedness to sort and organize the information.

  4. Organize tactically: You may not see all the relatedness, but use what you can see.

  5. Loosely related information can be compressed or embedded to create an object (see Figure 7).

    Figure 7Figure 7 Another graphic way of visualizing the embedded object.

  6. The object should retain original formatting as much as possible.

Step 5: Determine Your Focal Point

A focal point is not the same as a point of view. An Orbital Information Management Map is a solar system. You can start anywhere and go in any direction. In this configuration, you can have multiple points of view. But you may want a viewer to look over your shoulder and see what you're seeing. That focusing of attention is the focal point. It is not fixed; it is a design protocol for convenience's sake.

Step 6: Send Your Information into Orbit

Objects naturally follow certain user and conceptual pathways. Consider these as orbits. Baseball gloves, for example, are used by baseball players. So, a Rawlings catcher's mitt (object) naturally lives in the baseball glove (orbit) and baseball player (orbit). Oranges (object) naturally live in the fruit (orbit) and citrus (orbit). Note that any orbit may attract a wide variety of objects; objects may live in a wide variety of orbits. (See Figure 8.)

Figure 8Figure 8 Two early sketches of Orbital Maps for a financial services Web site. The first (left) shows the site in a three-dimensional overview. The second (right) shows a way of evaluating currencies in relation to each other.

Seeing Multiple Viewpoints Simultaneously

"The rule, then, if you want it stated that way, is this: Within a given chapter or (at worst) within a given dramatic confrontation in your book, you must maintain the integrity of the viewpoint. That means you stay in the same viewpoint." (James M. Bickham, Writing Novels That Sell)

While explaining how to write successful novels, Mr. Bickham succinctly, if unwittingly, states the alphabetic world view: One point of view at a time, please. While this is undoubtedly excellent advice for the budding novelist, it is less so for the information designer. This insistence on having one point of view is bred into the very cells of our alphabetical heritage. Words and their narratives work this way. Information, and the movement of life and thought that it captures, works otherwise. But until now we have had no conceptual framework to capture and make visible that otherwise.

Orbital views allow concentric or omnicentric comprehension: Any orbit may be viewed as the perceptive center. So, in effect, you can view information from multiple viewpoints. You can compare, contrast, and simultaneously hold multiple views. For example, you can view the same information from the perspective of the corporation and the corporation's ultimate customer.

You can view a crime scene from the POV of the suspect, the forensic pathologist, the police detective, and other criminals' past histories. The number of views is limited only by the number of orbits pertinent to the information. Moreover, you can do all that viewing at once. This simultaneity is a hallmark of the new world of digital information management, and is a distinct contrast to the one-at-a-time nature of the alphabetical viewpoint.

Multiplicity wasn't merely a clever movie. It is a central dynamic of information itself.

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