The Use and Applicability of Timeline Interfaces
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A common method of representing data is as a collection of attributes. An entry in a bibliography might consist of a title, an author, a publication date, and an ISBN number. A study of the distribution of certain pollutants in a body of water might rely on a set of water samples, where the information recorded for each includes a location, a temperature, and the concentrations of various compounds & organisms. Entries in a relational database conform to this model -- a database is composed of tables, each of which contains entries which consist of a set of well-defined attributes. Entries in a table describing individuals might consist of a name, weight, eye color, and mailing address. This conception of data is very simple, broadly applicable, and can be very flexible -- if attributes are allowed to reference other data points, it becomes possible to construct trees, graphs, as well as a wide variety of other complex structures. This model for data will be referred to henceforth as the attribute-collection model. Given its simplicity and wide applicability, the value of the attribute-collection model seems self-evident. But the general nature of the model -- the very quality which gives it worth -- presents a difficulty when it comes to manipulating data. Particular structures which might be constructed from data in this form are suited to particular interfaces. An appropriate interface for manipulating family trees, consisting of individuals having two parents and zero or more children, might be entirely useless when applied to a different data-set. The bibliography example mentioned earlier does not form a tree, and thus cannot be viewed or manipulated in a meaningful way if conceived of as a tree.