CritSpace: Using Spatial Hypertext to Model Visually Complex Documents

  1. 1. Neal Audenaert

    Texas A&M University

  2. 2. Richard Furuta

    Texas A&M University

  3. 3. George Lucchese

    Texas A&M University

  4. 4. Grant Sherrick

    Texas A&M University

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In this paper, we present a Web-based interface for editing
visually complex documents, such as modern authorial
manuscripts. Applying spatial hypertext theory as the basis for
designing this interface enables us to facilitate both interaction
with the visually complex structure of these documents and
integration of heterogeneous sources of external information.
This represents a new paradigm for designing systems to
support digital textual studies. Our approach emphasizes the
visual nature of texts and provides powerful tools to support
interpretation and creativity. In contrast to purely image-based
systems, we are able to do this while retaining the benefi ts of
traditional textual analysis tools.
Documents express information as a combination of written
words, graphical elements, and the arrangement of these
content objects in a particular media. Digital representations of
documents—and the applications built around them—typically
divide information between primarily textual representations
on the one hand (e.g., XML encoded documents) and primarily
graphical based representations on the other (e.g., facsimiles).
Image-based representations allow readers access to highquality
facsimiles of the original document, but provide little
support for explicitly encoded knowledge about the document.
XML-based representations, by contrast, are able to specify
detailed semantic knowledge embodied by encoding guidelines
such as the TEI [Sperberg-McQueen 2003]. This knowledge
forms the basis for building sophisticated analysis tools and
developing rich hypertext interfaces to large document
collections and supporting materials. This added power comes
at a price. These approaches are limited by the need to specify
all relevant content explicitly. This is, at best, a time consuming
and expensive task and, at worst, an impossible one [Robinson 2000]. Furthermore, in typical systems, access to these texts mediated almost exclusively by the transcribed linguistic
content, even when images alongside their transcriptions.
By adopting spatial hypertext as a metaphor for representing
document structure, we are able to design a system that
emphasizes the visually construed contents of a document
while retaining access to structured semantic information
embodied in XML-based representations. Dominant
hypertext systems, such as the Web, express document
relationships via explicit links. In contrast, spatial hypertext
expresses relationships by placing related content nodes near
each other on a two-dimensional canvas [Marshall 1993]. In
addition to spatial proximity, spatial hypertext systems express
relationships through visual properties such as background
color, border color and style, shape, and font style. Common
features of spatial hypermedia systems include parsers capable
of recognizing relationships between objects such as lists,
list headings, and stacks, structured metadata attributes for
objects, search capability, navigational linking, and the ability
to follow the evolution of the information space via a history
The spatial hypertext model has an intuitive appeal for
representing visually complex documents. According to this
model, documents specify relationships between content
objects (visual representations of words and graphical elements)
based on their spatial proximity and visual similarity. This allows
expression of informal, implicit, and ambiguous relationships—
a key requirement for humanities scholarship. Unlike purely
image-based representations, spatial hypertext enables users
to add formal descriptions of content objects and document
structure incrementally in the form of structured metadata
(including transcriptions and markup). Hypermedia theorists
refer to this process as “incremental formalism” [Shipman
1999]. Once added, these formal descriptions facilitate system
support for text analysis and navigational hypertext.
Another key advantage of spatial hypertext is its ability to
support “information triage” [Marshall 1997]. Information
triage is the process of locating, organizing, and prioritizing large
amounts of heterogeneous information. This is particularly
helpful in supporting information analysis and decision making
in situations where the volume of information available makes
detailed evaluation of it each resource impossible. By allowing
users to rearrange objects freely in a two-dimensional
workspace, spatial hypertext systems provide a lightweight
interface for organizing large amounts of information. In
addition to content taken directly from document images,
this model encourages the inclusion of visual surrogates for
information drawn from numerous sources. These include
related photographs and artwork, editorial annotations, links
to related documents, and bibliographical references. Editors/
readers can then arrange this related material as they interact
with the document to refi ne their interpretive perspective.
Editors/readers are also able to supply their own notes and
graphical annotations to enrich the workspace further.
System Design
We are developing CritSpace as a proof of concept system
using the spatial hypertext metaphor as a basis for supporting
digital textual studies. Building this system from scratch, rather
than using an existing application, allows us to tailor the
design to meet needs specifi c to the textual studies domain
(for example, by including document image analysis tools). We
are also able to develop this application with a Web-based
interface tightly integrated with a digital archive containing
a large volume of supporting information (such as artwork,
biographical information, and bibliographic references) as well
as the primary documents.
Initially, our focus is on a collection of manuscript documents
written by Picasso [Audenaert 2007]. Picasso’s prominent use
of visual elements, their tight integration with the linguistic
content, and his reliance on ambiguity and spatial arrangement
to convey meaning make this collection particularly attractive
[Marin 1993, Michaël 2002]. These features also make his work
particularly diffi cult to represent using XML-based approaches.
More importantly, Picasso’s writings contain numerous features
that exemplify the broader category of modern manuscripts
including documents in multiple states, extensive authorial
revisions, editorial drafts, interlinear and marginal scholia, and
sketches and doodles.
Figure 1: Screenshot of CritSpace showing a document
along with several related preparatory sketches
Picasso made for Guernica about the same time.
CritSpace provides an HTML based interface for accessing the
collection maintained by the Picasso Project [Mallen 2007] that
contains nearly 14,000 artworks (including documents) and
9,500 biographical entries. CritSpace allows users to arrange
facsimile document images in a two dimensional workspace
and resize and crop these images. Users may also search
and browse the entire holdings of the digital library directly
from CritSpace, adding related artworks and biographical
information to the workspace as desired. In addition to content
taken from the digital library, users may add links to other material available on the Web, or add their own comments to
the workspace in the form of annotations. All of these items
are displayed as content nodes that can be freely positioned
and whose visual properties can be modifi ed. Figure 1 shows
a screenshot of this application that displays a document and
several related artworks.
CritSpace also introduces several features tailored to support
digital textual studies. A tab at the bottom of the display opens
a window containing a transcription of the currently selected
item. An accordion-style menu on the right hand side provides
a clipboard for temporarily storing content while rearranging
the workspace, an area for working with groups of images, and
a panel for displaying metadata and browsing the collection
based on this metadata. We also introduce a full document
mode that allows users to view a high-resolution facsimile.
This interface allows users to add annotations (both shapes
and text) to the image and provides a zooming interface to
facilitate close examination of details.
Future Work
CritSpace provides a solid foundation for understanding how
to apply spatial hypertext as a metaphor for interacting with
visually complex documents. This perspective opens numerous
directions for further research.
A key challenge is developing tools to help identify content
objects within a document and then to extracted these object
in a way that will allow users to manipulate them in the visual
workspace. Along these lines, we are working to adapt existing
techniques for foreground/background segmentation [Gatos
2004], word and line identifi cation [Manmatha 2005], and
page segmentation [Shafait 2006]. We are investigating the
use of Markov chains to align transcriptions to images semiautomatically
[Rothfeder 2006] and expectation maximization
to automatically recognize dominant colors for the purpose of
separating information layers (for example, corrections made
in red ink).
Current implementations of these tools require extensive
parameter tuning by individuals with a detailed understanding
of the image processing algorithms. We plan to investigate
interfaces that will allow non-experts to perform this
parameter tuning interactively.
Modern spatial hypertext applications include a representation
of the history of the workspace [Shipman 2001]. We are
interested in incorporating this notion, to represent documents,
not as fi xed and fi nal objects, but rather objects that have
changed over time. This history mechanism will enable editors
to reconstruct hypothetical changes to the document as
authors and annotators have modifi ed it. It can also be used to
allowing readers to see the changes made by an editor while
constructing a particular form of the document.
While spatial hypertext provides a powerful model for
representing a single workspace, textual scholars will need
tools to support the higher-level structure found in documents,
such as chapters, sections, books, volumes. Further work is
needed to identify ways in which existing spatial hypertext
models can be extended express relationships between these
structures and support navigation, visualization, and editing.
Spatial hypertext offers an alternative to the dominate
view of text as an “ordered hierarchy of content objects”
(OCHO) [DeRose 1990]. The OCHO model emphasizes the
linear, linguistic content of a document and requires explicit
formalization of structural and semantic relationships early
in the encoding process. For documents characterized by
visually constructed information or complex and ambiguous
structures, OCHO may be overly restrictive.
In these cases, the ability to represent content objects
graphically in a two dimensional space provides scholars the
flexibility to represent both the visual aspects of the text they
are studying and the ambiguous, multi-facetted relationships
found in those texts. Furthermore, by including an incremental
path toward the explicit encoding of document content, this
model enables the incorporation of advanced textual analysis
tools that can leverage both the formally specifi ed structure
and the spatial arrangement of the content objects.
This material is based upon work support by National Science
Foundation under Grant No. IIS-0534314.
[Audenaert 2007] Audenaert, N. et al. Viewing Texts: An Art-
Centered Representation of Picasso’s Writings. In Proceedings
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[DeRose 1990] DeRose, S., Durand, D., Mylonas, E., Renear, A.
What is Text Really? Journal of Computing in Higher Education.
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[Gatos 2004] Gatos, B., Ioannis, P., Perantonis, S. J., An
Adaptive Binarization Technique for Low Quality Historical
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LNCS 3163 Springer-Verlag: Berlin, pp. 102-113.
[Mallen 2006] Mallen, E., ed. (2007) The Picasso Project. Texas
A&M University [25 November
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[Robinson 2000] Robinson, P. Ma(r)king the Electronic Text:
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Conference Info


ADHO - 2008

Hosted at University of Oulu

Oulu, Finland

June 25, 2008 - June 29, 2008

135 works by 231 authors indexed

Conference website:

Series: ADHO (3)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None