While thinking/writing today about visual navigation schemes, I transported back to the late 1990s when the brilliant multimedia visionary Roy Stringer was coming up with a 3D, manipulative tool called a “Navihedron”, then coded in Macromedia Shockwave. You see this in some modern iterations, especially the Visual Thesaurus, where words become nodes, and are connected to related words, visually mapped as a 3D objects you could move around on screen.

Navihedra-1

I had been following this since at the time most of my media projects were shockwave based. The stuff Roy was doing with R&D in multimedia interfaces at Amaze in the U.K was… amazing. I got to hear him speak when then-Chancellor Paul Elsner brought him to Maricopa, where Stringer was hinting at a project of working with another genius, Stephen Hawking, on trying to turn Hawking’s ideas into visual manipulatives. There is a vague reference to this in one of Paul’s papers, A New Technological Framework, Education, technology, and Entertainment:

Roy Stringer has been commissioned to develop CD-ROm presentations of Stephen Hawking’s entrophic singularity known as “black homes.” “There’s got to be a way to represent these phemonena visually.” … Hawking feels that if we can broaden the base of the number of astro-physicists young enough to perceive these singulairities called black homes, we multiply yje chances of creating theoretical breakthroughs of knowledge. “Besides, ” adds Stringer, “Stephen Hawking admits confidentially that he is interested in time-travel”

If I recall correctly, Stringer relayed that while Hawking’s book A Brief History of Time had reached a high level of popularity and sales, that he sense very few people, especially the younger generation, were really “getting it.” Stringer saw a multimedia interface, something people could control explore, interpret visually, might bridge that gap.

And they were going to share the code!

In fact, when I was planning my sabbatical in 2000, I had toyed with fitting in a visit to the U.K. but that would have been way too much.

Now I regret I missed that chance, since Roy tragically passed away in 2001. What is extremely sad is that I can find very little record of his work. The company;s web site he founded, Amaze, Ltd. looks like any other corporate web deisgn firm, clean, good photos, and text that says absolutely nothing, “Our experience of business issues and our background in technology means we are uniquely placed to deliver innovative, business-critical solutions that will deliver results both now and in the future.”.

The Navihedra site still has a URL but it says “under construction”. Digging in the Internet Archives pieces together the front page of the site, but none of the demos that resided there. Another site claims that a company named “Nascent Form” would carry on the work, but its URL too is dead.

I cannot even find an example of record of some truly interactive design that is maybe 5 years past. I found some text references to this work in a JIME paper Scholarly Rhetoric in Digital Media

The Navihedronäversion (http://www.navihedron.com/nav/bruce/now) is a much more radical departure from conventional scholarly presentation. Navihedrons™ are tools for composing hyper-information structures developed by Roy Stringer and his colleagues at Amaze Ltd. (http://www.amaze.co.uk). More information, examples and the opportunity to experiment with Navihedra™ can be found at http://www.navihedron.com/. In brief, however, Navihedra™ are 3D models based on Platonic solids and relationships between pieces of information are articulated in terms of the spatial relationships represented by the vertices of the polyhedron. That is, units of information (of any kind, media, size or complexity) are attached to a specific vertex and bi-directionally hyperlinked to all the immediately adjacent vertices. The overall structure being determined by some perceived relevance reflected in proximity. Proximate vertices are understood to locate units of information/argument that are more closely related to one another than units of information that are not directly hyperlinked. Furthermore, this 3 dimensional arrangement can be rotated in space so that differing patterns of inter-relatedness can be viewed. Creating such an arrangement is much more difficult than it might appear and requires an author to consider the structure/presentation of even a simple argument like the one contained in this article with at least as much care as a more conventional presentation.

So I cannot even find one example of the old Navihedra, and I am wondering about the “what might have beens” had Roy Stringer more time to do his genius design work. And I am thinking about that great reservoir of memory we call the internet, and the WikiPedia, seems rather dry on this work.

The post "Lost Navihedra" was originally dropped like a smoking hot potato at CogDogBlog (http://cogdogblog.com/2005/09/lost-navihedra/) on September 30, 2005.

3 Comments

  • Andy Tedd

    Nascent Form have picked up the ethos of Roy’s work and are the guys to go to if you after navihedra.

    http://www.nascentform.com/

    I did some prototypes with them 12-15 months ago, and the thing is still ahead of its time – for a lot of users too unfortunately.

    I’m trying to track down anyone with an example of the i-movies that Roy was working on in the late 90s. These were movies that you could just watch, or click on to get more detail – like the red button on interactive TV, but much much nicer. The one I saw was A Stephen Hawking one, or at least in that content area.

  • Thanks for your note, Andy. I had looked around the Nascent Form site, but could only find brochureware about their web development.

    I may have seen a demo of the i-Movie you describe; the one time I met Roy he was talking about it as a concept, some dim memory of a more intuitive TV like interface. I will contact the person who had run the conference where I saw Roy speak and see if he has any leads.

  • haleOnEarth

    I’m glad to have found this post as I’ve just spent quite a bit of trying to hunt down information on the Navihedron. I’ve been working on some ideas over the past couple of years that involve better approaches to our network of information, as I’m continually baffled at how we’re using such amazing technology to mimic the lifelessness of pages by enacting this page metaphor. I’ve even been trying to articulate to my girlfriend some of my ideas, as well as hunt down similar geeks that have done some of the hard work and know what I’m talking about. What a welcome site it was to stumble upon the Navihedron, alas to no avail, as I haven’t been able to find any information to introduce myself to this direction. I’ll keep hunting and I’ll keep my eyes posted to this blog for any further updates on the whereabouts of information. I’ll try contacting Nacent as well.

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