Imagine mSpace: Don't just feel lucky; feel better

mSpace is an interface service that includes an interaction model and software framework to help people access and explore information.

mSpace helps people build knowledge from exploring those relationships. mSpace does this by offering several powerful tools for organizing an information space to suit a person's interest: slicing, sorting, swapping, infoViews and preview cues.

An mSpace presents several associated categories from an information space, and then lets users manipulate how many of these categories are presented and how they're arranged. In this way, people can organize the information to suit their interests, while concurrently having available to them multiple other complementary paths through that information. How mSpace does this is described below, but first an example. "I may not know much about Classical Music, but I Know what I like when I hear it."

What if you want to find something from an domain where you have a general interest but not specific knowledge? How would you find classical music you might enjoy if you don't know what Beethoven or Berlioz sounds like? What a Sonata is? The difference between Baroque or Romantic? What do you type into Google?

If you type in "Classical Music" you will find a list of classical music information pages. So you can find text-based descriptions of classical music, long lists of classical music terms, and in some places, even recommendations of what to try. But this means hacking and hoping through a forest of clicks.

iTunes Music Store might help: its browse area lets you use its famous iTunes software to browse the classical music available in the store. Scroll through a list of all the artists, and quickly see all the albums by that artist. Move from one list to the next without clicking into new windows. And best of all, hear the actual music by selecting tracks from an album listing.

But even here, you have to know what you want, and in this case, you have to know what Artist you'd like to hear, and find composers from there; there's no list of composers. You can't organize the browser by instrument (Piano or Violin or Cello) or genre (Symphony, Sonata, Concerto) or period (Romantic, Contemporary, Early) either. Nor do you have any information about what any of those terms mean. What if you could combine the ease of iTunes with the information of a Google search -- and make that better?

The mSpace software framework lets you wrap iTunes-like browsers around any kind of information domain and associate any kind of media with that information and explore it just about any way you'd like.

Take Classical Music. We did.

We had: a listing of classical music pieces, classical music audio files, classical music information sites (out on the net) and a set of classical music categories. We applied the mSpace framework to these resources in order to associate them with each other. The mSpace interface lets us then explore and manipulate the information in the space.

InfoViews. Lots of information. One window. The picture above gives a view of an mSpace Classical Music Broswer. It shows three categories (Era, Composer and Piece). Sort of like iTunes. But in this case, when you click on an element in a category (like Elgar under Composer), you'll see information about Elgar. Like iTunes, you'll also see other composers in the currently selected era (Modern, in this case). If you click on one of the Periods, you'll see information about that period. The idea here is that people get a lot of associated information in one window. No clicking through openning and closing a menagerie of links and windows, trying to remember what goes with what. Each element in the mSpace browser is connected to information about that element. And it's connected with more than one kind of information, as Preview Cues shows next.

Preview Cues. Text is great, but sometimes, it's just not enough, especially when what you're looking for is music or video. With mSpace, hovering over a title in a category pulls up a selection of what we call preview cues. Don't know what Romantic music sounds like? Preview it! If you like it, select it and explore further. If you don't, hover over the next category and preview the kind of music you'd find there.

Choice. Organize information the way you want it. Maybe looking at Classical Music by era and then composer is just right for you. Or maybe the way you know classical music is that you had to practice piano when you were seven and would like to see the space organized by instrument first to hear what some of those pieces should have sounded like. Or maybe you know you just like Cello music and would like to hear different kinds of cello pieces, and heh you do know the name of one cellist, could you find him from a list of cello players?

The answer is yes you can. In mSpace, you can swap categories in and out of your current slice; you can sort them into different orders, and you can add or subtract categories. NEW for Beta 6 Demo Videos(quicktime) Slice/Swap/Sort and Resize (9meg/2min) Genearl Search (1.4meg/26sec) Preview Cues and Tracking Interest(6megs/1min) Searching in Context, and leveraging Google (1.1meg) Build new knowledge through exploring rich relationships

The idea of mSpace is that by supporting in context and user-dertermined organization of information, we may be able to build new knowledge, ask new kinds of questions that aren't always readily expressable for a search engine. For instance, by exploring the classical music broswer, one may be surprised to learn just how many big names in classical music were around until recently; that Bach didn't write anything on piano - it didn't exist when he was composing; that Napoleon was a contemporary of Beethoven; that Beethoven and Bach didn't know each other; that concertos and symphonies are different, though orchestras can perform both, and maybe most importantly, you can figure out that you really do like baroque seranades, but only on period instruments. This is new knowledge you can share with your friends, or take into a library or record store, or for that matter, now type into google. Not just about music

An mSpace can be applied potentially to any area of information. Like movies. Like the Internet Movie Database (IMDB). To test the mSpace Framework Software, we wrapped an mspace around IMDB (which supports export of its data) and a few other info sites about movies, and created an mSpace Browser (or explorer) for Movies. For preview cues, we've associated freely available trailers. Don't know about Film Noir? Preview some trailers to get a feel for the genre, then explore by decade, director, cast, studio, country. Interested in the kinds of films the UK was making during the early years of WWII? Explore through decade and country and studio. Easily compare UK output with other countries at the same time. See information about genres, directors, actors too.

Here, a preview of the genre Film Noir is playing in the current slice which supports exploration of genre by decade, directors and movies. Using cues, and info about the genre, people can see if they're interested in what they read or view and wish to explore it more deeply, or possibly rent or order one of the films discovered.