November 4, 2002
Cool Site: Visual Thesaurus
By Joe Sullivan
It's kind of like a regular thesaurus—but much cooler. Type a word, any word, into www.visualthesaurus.com and a little fountain of its related words whirls before you: synonyms, antonyms, origins, and a host of other relations. In 3-D, the site visually illustrates the root word's relationship to its components with a set of revolving lines leading to seemingly endless links the user can click on.
Trust us, it's a trip. We grilled the site's project leader and driving force, Marc Tinkler, CTO and principal of New York City-based Plumb Design, with five questions to find out more about Visual Thesaurus's coolness.
1. Where did you get the idea for the site?
We were looking for a publicly available database with appeal to a broad audience in order to demonstrate our Thinkmap technology. We wanted to build a site that could show the interrelationships between words and meanings typically obscured by alphabetical representations and traditional interfaces (lists, tables, etc.). When we learned about WordNet, a lexical reference system developed by the Cognitive Science Laboratory at Princeton University, we realized that we had found a data set full of rich content and interesting relationships.
2. What technologies went into creating the site?
The application was created using Plumb Design's Java-based Thinkmap visualization software. Thinkmap provides a platform for creating custom interfaces to interconnected information. In the case of the Visual Thesaurus, Thinkmap talks directly to WordNet, the underlying data source used to display the words of the English language, their meanings and interrelationships.
3. How long did it take to put it all together?
As a typical "labor of love," we worked on the new Visual Thesaurus in parallel to our client work for over three months this summer.
4. What business applications does the site have?
Thinkmap is designed to support the process of information retrieval, and to enable organizations to get more out of their knowledge assets. In other words, it allows users to sift through vast amounts of information and streamline that information to what they really need, thereby streamlining the speed at which they can operate their business.
5. This is a pretty visually cool site. So, are you cool?
No. But we don't mind the fact that you think our work is cool.