A Canadian start-up Monday released software that creates a visual map of a large database that is accessed via the Web to improve how users navigate through the information.
Maps created with Antarcti.ca Systems Inc.'s Visual Net Enterprise software complement keyword searches. The maps can take any form: geographic, topographic or a fanciful cityscape in two or three dimensions.
"This is not going to make searching go away, but it makes it easier to ask general questions about a large database," explains Tim Bray, founder and CEO of Antarcti.ca and co-inventor of XML. "Our maps can tell you what information the human resources department has about the 401K plan at a glance."
Antarcti.ca is targeting Visual Net Enterprises at corporate portals and intranets. The company has signed up one corporate customer so far: Macdonald & Associates, a Toronto research firm that tracks venture capital investments in Canada.
Creating a Visual Net Enterprise map for an existing database takes about a month, Bray says. The owner of the data must first decide what information is most important - such as the size of a venture capital deal or how recently it was signed - and then must choose a visual representation, such as a cityscape.
The map offers database users a quick way of answering broad questions about a data set rather than specific queries. For example, you can quickly tell which industries are getting the most venture capital data by looking at which building is the highest in the Macdonald & Associates cityscape.
Visual Net Enterprise works with any existing database built on such standards as XML or SQL. It runs on Apache's Web server software and requires a dedicated server.
Visual Net starts at around US$50,000, depending on the size of the database and the amount of traffic it receives.
Antarcti.ca also sells Visual Net for Libraries, which offers built-in support for library numbering systems such as the Dewey Decimal System. Customers of that offering include the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, N.C.
Antarti.ca's competitors include WebMap Technologies Inc. and TheBrain Technologies Corp.