Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Butterflyzer Alpha 5

When I first thought about turning Butterflyzer into a product, I really had no idea whether people would grok it or not. It seemed to me that if I couldn't at least get that hard-core group of "pioneers" to take a look and find some value in it, it really wasn't worth doing. Now, Butterflyzer has about 75 followers on Twitter, which is getting frighteningly close to 100, the point at which we've said we'd deliver that promised Beta. So what to do now? Why, add a whole bunch of features / potential defects, of course! In this case, these are features that I've been wanting to build in from the beginning, but they've also been driven by the survey feedback we've been getting.

One request had been to provide Butterflyzer as an Eclipse plugin. Done! This means that if you're already using Eclipse you can fully integrate Butterflyzer with the rest of your workbench and workflow. Just head on down to the Eclipse Marketplace and grab yourself a free alpha! (But remember, it is Alpha software and you might end up with that dreaded spinning wheel of death, or worse, so you might not want to keep it in your main production environment just yet.) After installing the plugin, just open the Butterflyzer perspective, create a new general project, create a new Butterflyzer model using the wizard, open it up, and type a search phrase into the toolbar text box. And then see what comes up!

One of the least expected feedback items I've received is that while many people find the graph visualization to be really compelling, a lot of people don't see much obvious value in it -- they often see the real value in the organization and curation capabilities. I do think there is a huge potential for dynamic graph visualization in allowing people to understand deep semantic relationships, but I also am getting the idea that the graphs are not the point -- the information is. Tools like Mylyn / Tasktop have done a great job of putting the graph behind the scene without losing the representational power that the graph structure provides. And that's what this release has been focussed on... making it easy to navigate through the information you want in a very direct way, without losing the rich structure behind it. As this vision gets built out, hopefully the whole idea behind "Think Outside of the Browser" will become more clear.

To facilitate this, there have been a number of improvements to overall usability. Elements having the same connections are grouped together in a nicer way..

And toolbars and captions are better integrated with the graph visualization..

You'll notice that the web pages in the captions are automatically pared down to grab just the important details from the site. OK, that part needs some work, as you can see below, but it already better than trying to scroll through a little page with a bunch of ads and image links. By clicking the toolbar, the caption expands (with a nice animation) so that you can see the full web page...

But the most important feature is that Butterflyzer now becomes a very powerful semantic browser. Notice that embedded in the page are buttons for semantically tagged items. Tags are created for semantics that OpenCalais has recognized, search terms that you've used, and any other categories that you've created. When you click on one of those items, you'll see all the items that relate to that tag within your browsing context. For example, we've clicked on a prominent Eclipse personage here, and even though I can't spell his name, I can easily grab all of the articles mentioning him...

Now of course, if I was using an ordinary browser, I could have done a new search for "Chris Ani.. Eclipse Indigo", but that would be a) unwieldy (I'd copy and past his name from the list), b) slow, and c) I'd have to look at every page in turn to find out whether I was interested in the contents. With the revolutionary (sorry, couldn't resist) Butterflyzer Tile View, all of the matching pages that can fit comfortably on a single tile are loaded simultaneously.

Form the Tile View, I can expand up full pages, click on the semantic tags within them, return to the graph, etc.. It's difficult to get a sense for how fluid this is and for the potential of the approach overall without trying it for yourself.

You can do the same thing with Tweets -- here we've selected a set of key Eclipse sources commenting on the Indigo release...

By the way, we're looking at beefing up the Twitter component -- it's pretty low hanging fruit actually -- so that you can do all of your tweeting directly from Butterflyzer, but we do have to tread a bit lightly here to stay off of the "Basic Twitter Client" category -- Twitter has made clear that that is their territory. So how about it? If you think a really powerful full-featured analysis-oriented Twitter client should be part of the Butterflyzer feature set sooner rather than later, let us know.

Hopefully that's given you a sense for what's new with Butterflyzer. Check it out, install the plugin, and let me know what you think!

Oh yeah.. you can download it from here. The plugin update site is or just use Eclipse Marketplace. Please note that the Butterflyzer plugin works with Indigo only (unless we get huge demand for legacy support) -- just one more good reason to download Indigo!

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