Researchers at the University of West Florida's Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) in Pensacola are redefining the standard page structure used for Web site construction. While the page-by-page organization of information on the Web is directly translated from the print medium, the new structure, concept mapping, will make it easier to explore the Internet.
Concept mapping was developed by Cornell University scientist Joseph D. Novak in the 1970s. In its original form, a concept map is a two-dimensional representation of a set of concepts and their relationships. The concepts are depicted as nodes, while the relationships between concepts are links.
Concept maps are hierarchal, with the most general concepts at the top, and the more specific concepts below. In this configuration, concepts on a horizontal axis tend to have a similar degree of generality.
The concept-mapping tool is based on the theory of assimilation, which holds that meaningful learning results from linking new information to pre-existing information in an individual's cognitive structure. This theory holds that the most important factor in the learning process is an individual's pre-existing knowledge.
The IHMC team, led by associate director Alberto Canas, transformed concept-mapping into a pageless way to browse the Web. The result is Cmap, patented software written in Java and running on various operating systems, including Windows, Mac, and versions of Unix. Any existing browser can display Web pages constructed using the software.
One of the earliest users of the Cmap software is the Center for Mars Exploration (CMEX) at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. CMEX is funding the IHMC research. Geoffrey Brigges, director of CMEX, is creating a Mars concept map on the Internet.
The prototype is a multimedia-based knowledge representation. "Mars" is written in the center box, surrounded by related concepts connected to the center by labeled lines (see the figure). Users can click on the concept box icons to open additional maps or attain links to related Web sites.
Nonprofit entities can download Cmap free from the institute's Web site. The software isn't available yet for commercial use, the IHMCis considering licensing it. For more information, visit the institute's Web site at http://cmap.coginst.uwf.edu. The Mars concept map may be found at http://cmex.arc.nasa.gov.