What is a Wordmap?

Mindmap   Conceptmap Imagemap
Spatial   Chunking   Software 
CyberMaps ThinkMap   SurfSerf   
Examples: Search     Forms      
Me:       Malama     Hsi
Mac       New
Kindness  Binaural   Game Theory  

Wordmaps are my way of organizing my website. Basically, they are a collection of words related to material covered in my webpage and are usually located at the top of the page, and so function like a table of contents or index. However, there is more to them than meets the eye. They can be considered as simplified concept maps or mind maps.

Concept maps were developed by Prof. Joseph D. Novak at Cornell University in the 1960s and are based on the theories of David Ausubel. They are based on the fundamental idea that "Meaningful learning involves the assimilation of new concepts and propositions into existing cognitive structures". Mindmaps are a similar technique developed by Tony Buzan (see his book entitled "The Mind Map Book, How To Use Radiant Thinking" published in 1994 by Dutton.). Basically, a concept map or mindmap is a word/concept (picture) that you draw on a page, and then you surround it with related words/concepts and draw lines between them, which can also be labeled. These methods are an efficient way to take notes or represent a talk that you might be giving.

What I call wordmaps, are usually rectangular arrangements of words, such as the periodic table. A wordmap seems like a table of contents, or index, but there is a difference. A table of contents or index is essentially a linear, one dimensional listing of ideas, the latter being arranged alphabetically. A wordmap has at least two dimensions, and there is no constraint on how the ideas are arranged. They can be arranged alphabetically, associatively, aesthetically, conceptually, metaphorically, phonetically, poetically, or any pattern that is detectable. For example, on my home page, I use my name as a seed to generate a rectangular wordmap. One aspect of this wordmap, is that I tried to have each row and column relate to one idea, and have the intersection be the joining of these two ideas. This idea is related to chunking or the process of actively organizing or grouping items into a set of fewer, more meaningful chunks that can be more easily remembered. Others also have been developing ways on how to best chunk web pages so that they are easy to navigate and maintain.

It is also important to note that a wordmap is useful because we remember things on a very fundamental level, by using spatial cues. When you construct a map, the information becomes associated with a particular spatial location on that page. Thus, once you have constructed a satisfactory map, it is best to leave it alone, and not to change the positions of the clickable links, which would destroy the spatial information used for remembering. I say this, because I notice when I look for something I always look in the same place. If someone else moves my tools, food in the refrigerator or computer files, I no longer know where they are, which is quite annoying! Even if I move the stuff myself, I often first return to the old place, before remembering that I had moved it to a new location. One thing that bothers me about libraries, is that they are always expanding their collections, so the sections where I look for my favorite books keep moving around! This reminds me of the old maxim: "A place for everything, and everything in its place." And for a blind person, this is an imperative. Interestingly, if you could see where the touch receptors in your skin map onto your cortex, you would see a miniature version of your body, also known as the homunculus. If our actual brains resort to this form of organization, then perhaps the information of cyberspace is best mapped this way as well. If you want to expand, and you do it like the biological model, then the sheet of ideas folds upon itself, perhaps eventually looking like the cortex.

Another variation on the wordmap idea, is the written Chinese language. Typically, each written ideograph is composed of smaller subunits of associated ideas. For example, consider the unique portion of my name Hsi. When all of the strokes are taken together, it means all of the following: "faint light," "early light," "the light at dawn," "twilight,", "zodiacal light," and even "bright." However, this ideograph can be broken down into two parts: "fire," which appears as the four strokes at the base, reminiscent of a small campfire, and "happiness," which are all the strokes above it. So the light that gives the most happiness occurs at dawn, sunset or even noon, an easy way to remember. However, even the strokes comprising the happiness character can be broken down in the elemental meanings of "scholar" and "lucky." So you become happy when you have knowledge and are lucky. Add some fire to it, and then you have me! My father chose a very good name for me, and it is also the name of a famous Chinese philosopher: Chu Hsi.

The utility of knowledge depends on its ease of recall, and by organizing ideas into a pattern makes them easier to remember. The key idea is efficiency. An essential idea when buried in a paragraph of words, can be difficult to find. With respect to my wordmaps, they have the following attributes to increase efficiency: 1. they are compact; 2. I locate them on the top of a webpage so that they load first, and you can scan whether or not you want to read the rest of the page; 3. since most search engines list the first several lines of text on a web page, the searcher can gain an immediate summary of what the page is about; 4. I try to maintain the same spatial arrangement over time, so you don't have to hunt around if you knew where the link was last located;

I even avoid using imagemaps not only for faster loading, but because the words will not be listed in the search engine. Furthermore, because the words load first, many of which really are links (and perhaps linkmap is a more apt description), you don't even need to wait for the entire page to load, but can quickly go somewhere else if it is not what you want. Most websites want you to linger, but I don't care-why would I want to I annoy you with ads and other sorts of garbage! I'm not actually trying to sell anything. Actually, I want you to save your money so that you can have more freedom. Also, I use mostly <PRE></PRE> tags, so if you are using a text only browser, such as Lynx, then formatting is preserved.

When searching for information on the web, the DirectHit search engine seems to follow the wordmap concept closest. Try it by typing a term here:

The search engine Altavista at one time used a concept similar to Mind Maps, by automatically providing a pictoral spider or tree-like diagram linking more keywords related to the ones in your original search. Now, they seem to be using wordmaps too. While I prefer stationary representations, there are a few dynamic systems, that are simply amazing for navigating cyberspace. One is Apple Computer's Project X, now known as HotSauce MCF, an expanding wordmap of metacontent in 3D information space. Another is ThinkMap's Thesaurus! If the words could be replaced with actual images, one could conceivably build a replica of outer space within cyberspace, and fly in it. It would be like Isaac Asimov's book Fantastic Voyage, and the 1966 science-fiction movie, where four men and a women are reduced to a fraction of their original size and sent in a minature submarine into the human body. Something like using an endoscope, which is a fiber optic probe with a TV camera attached to examine the internal organs. A remake of this by the BBC was recently done entitled Intimate Universe, and airs on The Learning Channel. A similar concept are virtual reality imagemaps, such as the three dimensionally represented Old Town Crossroads Maps I also like the idea of Info-landscapes, Artem's "City of Text," a virtual landscape of skyscrapers with information and hypertext links written on them, and Visual Who.

A lot of software is available, judging by the range of cybermapping efforts currently underway. Simple concept/mind mapping software is available. I use a Mac, and the freeware program CMap, can give you an idea of how simple concept/mindmaps work. Inspiration Software has a program which can be used in brainstorming to create structures similar to mind maps. I've also found a book entitled "Maps of the Mind" written by Charles Hampton-Turner and published by Macmillan in 1981 that even uses the term "word map" (see page 8). So maybe my concept is not exactly new. This book is an excellent summary of the various models of mind, thinking and personal psychology, each model condensed to a single drawing (map) with words to represent the various concepts.

One last note: I've noticed that as the web expands, it does not seem to be growing like a tree, but more like tumbleweed. Also, it even seems to grow the opposite of trees, the leaves grow first. For example, I will post isolated webpages, the only way to get to them is via a search engine. To find these, you have to search my site. After enough pages have been posted, then I may link them all together with a single page wordmap. Voila! Magically, it seems a new website suddenly appears!

Last updated 27 August 1999

Copyright © 1996-9 by Duen Hsi Yen, All rights reserved.

E-mail: yen@noogenesis.com