Academic journal article Cartography and Geographic Information Science

How Users Interact with a 3D Geo-Browser under Time Pressure

Academic journal article Cartography and Geographic Information Science

How Users Interact with a 3D Geo-Browser under Time Pressure

Article excerpt

Introduction

For several thousand years, static, hardcopy paper maps have been the state of the art for map-based decision making. Due to technical progress, such as the increase in processing power of computers, and the availability of user-friendly interfaces, recent years have seen a dramatic popularity increase of interactive maps. In particular, so-called 3D geo-browsers (Hruby et al. 2009), virtual globes, and 3D globe viewers have introduced the concept of fully interactive 3D maps to a wide, non-professional audience (Riedl 2006). Three-dimensional geo-browsers, such as GoogleEarth, NASA's World Wind, and similar efforts, provide users with the possibility to interact with the map display in various ways, such as panning, zooming, and especially, rotating and tilting in 3D (Schultz et al. 2008).

However, it is still unclear how people actually "geobrowse" (Peuquet and Kraak 2002; Abend et al. 2012), and whether these novel tools for interaction with the third dimension available in interactive geo-browsers and globe viewers are indeed efficient and effective for spatio-temporal decision-making (Fabrikant 2005). We know even less how people use map displays including 3D geo-browsers under varying decision-time constraints (e.g., under time pressure), and how time pressure might affect the quality of the map-based decision-making. This is surprising, as many map-based decisions in life are often made under time pressure, and thus time pressure is an important factor to consider for the efficiency and effectiveness of map-based decisions (Wilkening and Fabrikant 2011a).

In this paper, we try to shed light on these issues by means of a controlled experiment, in which participants have to solve 3D cartometric tasks of varying complexity using GoogleEarth, as one prototypical 3D geo-browser. We specifically investigate how often participants interact with a 3D geo-browser display, which tools they use when they interact, and which role time pressure plays in this context.

Related work

Already in the early nineties, Kraak (1993) envisioned state-of-the-art, interactive, virtual globes, featuring three-dimensional visualization capabilities and allowing "geometric map transformations such as rotation, scaling, translation and zooming to position the map in 3D space with respect to the map's purpose and the phenomena to be mapped" (p. 193). While several design considerations for 3D cartography have been made, and some empirical studies have focused on 3D cartography and visualization (e.g., Moellering 1980, and Kraak 1993), decision-making effectiveness or efficiency of human-map interactions with virtual globes or 3D geo-browsers has not been widely studied by cartographers.

In one of the first empirical studies, specifically investigating how people navigate in space with 3D geo-browsers, Abend et al. (2011) found that users tend to employ a mix of interaction tools for navigation. They also found that participants preferred to retain a North-up orientation of the map display, while users with 3D graphics software experience were more likely to tilt the view when navigating.

There is an ongoing debate to what extent people generally benefit from being able to interact with a (3D) visual display, with inconclusive empirical results. While studies on visual object recognition (Harman et al. 1999; James et al. 2002), or on the acquisition of spatial knowledge in a virtual environment (Peruch et al, 1995) have found significant advantages to providing interactivity to users, other studies were not able to detect any benefits of interactivity for navigating in desktop and virtual environments (Foreman et al. 2004; Melanson et al. 2002). There are even examples of studies showing that participants who were searching for structure in 3D data performed worse when provided with possibilities to interact (Marchak and Zulager 1992). In a study on user interaction with a 3D visualization for inferring and drawing cross sections, Keehner et al. …

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