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Research Project Summaries

Hypertext Research: The Development of HyperTIES
Dynamic queries, starfield displays, and the path to Spotfire
Electronic Classrooms: Teaching/Learning Theaters
Relate-Create-Donate: An educational strategy
Treemaps for space-constrained visualization of hierarchies
High-Precision Touchscreens: Museum Kiosks, Home Automation and Touchscreen Keyboards
o Network Management: Pointers to relevant HCIL papers and past projects

Early work on database systems

Ben Shneiderman's 1973 dissertation research presented a graph-theoretic model of data structures covering optimum multi-level index design, searching strategies, and a convenient model for describing data structures. The most widely referenced results were in ÒOptimum Data Base Reorganization PointsÓ (Communications of the ACM 16, 6, June 1973, pp. 362-365) which opened up a subtopic in physical database design.

Programming textbooks

Ben Shneiderman co-authored two books with Charles Kreitzberg -- The Elements of FORTRAN Style: Techniques for Effective Programming (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972, 121 pages) which was the first of the programming style guides and FORTRAN Programming: A Spiral Approach (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975; Second Edition 1982, 437 pages) which was the best selling book for introductory FORTRAN for several years. The spiral approach was copied by at least a half dozen authors.

Structured flowcharts

Structured flowcharts, refined with fellow graduate student Isaac Nassi, (ACM SIGPLAN Notices 8, 8, August 1973) have had a dramatic impact in many commercial programming organizations. Software to produce the charts (popularly called Nassi-Shneiderman Diagrams or structograms in Germany where it is very widely used) has been written by 8-10 organizations, at least two dozen textbooks use this method, and there are well over 200 references, plus many proposed extensions and variants. A 1996 survey showed 35% of business colleges in the US teach Nassi-Shneiderman Diagrams.

Early work on human factors

Dr. Shneiderman continued to do mathematical models of data structures and implement database software during the 1970s, but his emphasis shifted towards human performance with computers. He collaborated with experimental psychologists, and developed scientific methods involving empirical techniques to improve the design of programming languages, database query facilities, and user interfaces. His landmark book Software Psychology: Human Factors in Computer and Information Systems (Little, Brown and Co., 1980, 320 pages) was the monthly selection of both the McGraw-Hill and Macmillan Library of Computer and Information Science Book Clubs. A Russian edition of 15,000 copies received good reviews and sold out in a few weeks.

Influential papers included a cognitive model of programmer or user behavior, "Syntactic/semantic interactions in programmer behavior: A model and experimental results" (International Journal of Computer and Information Sciences 7, June 1979, also reprinted in Bill Curtis, Editor, Human Factors in Software Development, IEEE, 1981). His paper on "Control flow and data structure documentation: Two experiments" (Communications of the ACM 25, 1, January 1982, pp. 55-63) provided an empirical demonstration that the contents of the documentation is more important than the form (graphics vs. textual) and supported earlier results that detailed flowcharts (Communications of the ACM 20, 6, June 1977, 373-381) are not that helpful. All these efforts were influenced by and contributed to a theoretical framework for analyzing user interface issues: semantics of the task domain, semantics of the computer concepts, and syntax for expressing the semantics.

Direct manipulation

Ben Shneiderman's most important paper is probably "Direct manipulation: A step beyond programming languages" (IEEE Computer 16, 8, August 1983, pp. 57-69) which offered a new vision of interactive systems (Reprinted in Nikkei Computer (Japanese), Auerbach Report Series, ACM Press and IEEE collections). Direct manipulation systems provide a visual representation of the objects and actions of interest; rapid, incremental, and reversible actions; immediate presentation of the multiple impacts of a change; selection instead of typing; and an emphasis on task domain representations that produce low demands for syntactic and computer knowledge. These systems usually are rapid to learn, have low error rates, produce high user satisfaction, and are easy for users to retain over time.

His 1987 book, Designing the User Interface: Strategies of Effective Human-Computer Interaction (Addison-Wesley Publ., Second edition, 1992, Third edition planned for 1997) has had a profound impact as an educational and professional text (Published in Japanese by Nikkei McGraw-Hill, 1987, Second edition 1993).

An important part of Ben Shneiderman's work has been bringing research ideas to the professional community, through lectures and consultations with corporations (Apple, AT&T, Bell Labs, GE, IBM, Intel, etc.) and government agencies (Library of Congress, Library of Medicine, Census, etc.). Professional courses at the University of Maryland's Center for Adult Education attracted large and appreciative audiences and he has given courses at UCLA and UC Santa Cruz, as well as internationally in Brazil, England, Singapore, Australia, Japan, Switzerland, and Israel. Since 1987 he has conducted an annual satellite TV course on User Interface Strategies that is seen by thousands of professionals.

Hypertext research and development

Ben Shneiderman has led the interdisciplinary Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory since 1983. Its most influential development was the embedded menu method for selecting highlighted words in context to jump to another page (Communications of the ACM 29, 4, April 1986, 312-318). This approach to hypertext became widely imitated and is the interface basis for the wildly successful World Wide Web. The Hyperties hypertext system was licensed for the commercial purposes in 1988 to Cognetics Corporation (Princeton Jct., NJ) for IBM PCs, and was implemented on the SUN workstations for research projects for NASA, NCR, AT&T, etc. He received the 1987 award with R. Potter for Outstanding Innovation by the University of Maryland Office of Technology Liaison for the finger mouse touchscreen strategy. Over twenty empirical studies were conducted, including controlled laboratory studies and field studies in three museums. Two computers using this strategy on a Hyperties database were installed at the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum in March 1988, and traveled for 18 months.

The ACM published a Hyperties disk with the full text of the July 1988 Special Issue of the CACM on hypertext, plus additional information added by Dr. Shneiderman in his role as Hypertext Editor. In September 1988 Addison-Wesley published the world's first commercial electronic book titled Hypertext Hands-On! written by Ben Shneiderman and Greg Kearsley.

Information Visualization

During the 1990's Ben Shneiderman created information visualization methods to give users visual overviews of large databases, including the starfield (scattergram with zooming, filtering, and color coded items) and treemaps (two-dimensional space-filling representation of trees with thousands of nodes). User control over these displays is accomplished by filtering out unwanted items with dynamic queries using double-boxed range sliders for numeric values, alphasliders for nominal lists, and buttons for categorical variables. Recent innovations include the Visible Human Explorer for showing medical image data and LifeLines for presenting personal or medical histories.

Societal Benefits

Dr. Shneiderman's deep concern for the proper utilization of computing has led him to consider social, ethical, and philosophical issues in a multiply reprinted paper ÒHuman values and the future of technologyÓ. Because of these efforts he was given an honorary doctorate of science by the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. He founded the Conference on Society and the Future of Computing and regularly speaks out on increasing the societal benefits of computing at national and international forums.


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