Hypermedia Authoring in an Industrial Environment.

Wills G.B, Heath I, Crowder R.M, Hall W.


This report gives practical solutions for authoring an industrial application using Microcosm Plus. The insight was gained while researching into Factory Information Resource Management (FIRM) a research project that used Microcosm Plus. The report present a brief overview of hypermedia authoring principles. The report then describes how FIRM solved the problem of compatibility with different electronic applications and legacy paper documents and their conversion to electronic format.

Finally, the report suggests methods of authoring the electronic information including using more than one linkbase, saving application settings, working with form, working with DXF drawings, working with text documents, working with bitmaps and guided tours.


Multimedia Research Group Technical report No M97-6


Copyright 1997, University of Southampton. All rights reserved.



2. Authoring Principles.
2.1 Automatic Explicit Link Generation.
2.2 Mini-Hypermedia Applications (MHAs).

3. Compatibility between Different Electronic Applications.

4. Dealing with Paper Legacy Information.
4.1 Converting into Electronic Format.

5. Authoring the electronic Information.
5.1 General Linking.
5.2 Using more than one linkbase.
5.3 Saving Settings.
5.4 Working with Forms.
5.5 Working with DXF Drawings.
5.6 Working with Text Documents.
5.7 Working with Bitmaps.
5.8 Producing Thumbnails.
5.9 Producing a Guided Tour.
5.10 Making the application portable.

6. Conclusion




The object of this report is not to replace or regurgitate the documentation (on-line or paper format) that comes with Microcosm Plus, but to provide a practical insight into industrial authoring using Microcosm Plus. Through out the rest of this report Microcosm Plus will simply be referred to as Microcosm. Figure 1 shows the overall process of industrial hypermedia authoring in FIRM.

The insight was gained while researching into FIRM [1] a research project that used Microcosm. A Hypermedia system is one in which the concepts of hypertext are applied to multimedia data. Hypertext is a phrase coined by Ted Nelson in the late 1960’s [2]. It was applied to unstructured text, with associations between the text being made with links. In practice hypermedia allows association to be made between different types of media, i.e. text, video, digitised photographs, databases, engineering drawings, spreadsheets [3].

While no formal definition of the term hypermedia application exists, the term is widely used to refer to the overall collection of links and documents for a given subject [4]. For the purpose of this report the term hypermedia application is used to refer to a collection of multimedia documents, links, and Microcosm filters.

In an industrial environment, there already exists an established set of documents and information systems. These will already have their structure, content and access methods. These existing structures naturally create different views of the information depending on who is accessing the information, which task they are undertaking, and what piece (if any) of equipment is being used or worked on. By using these ‘natural’ hierarchies responsibility for maintaining the different areas within the information space can be allocated.

A flow diagram of the authoring process in an industrial environment.

Figure 1 The authoring of a hypermedia application.

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Authoring Principles.

The cognitive process of the human mind tends to organise and recall information through association. Hypermedia allows us to partially mimic this process, by letting us organise information and make associations (using hyperlinks) corresponding with the way in which we naturally access and manipulate information [5].

The author of an industrial hypermedia application links related concepts and decides how the information should be presented on the screen. Keeping the original structure of the information allows the viewpoint of the original author to be kept. Information structures can be broken down into three main groups.

Linear: The user must first complete the topic before progressing to the next step. This is useful in retaining the sequential order of the original paper document. Binding several nodes together in a 'guided tour' or hypertrail, commonly serves as instructional aids, or procedural instructions (used in training manuals.)

Hierarchical: Can retain the original structure of the information in a hypermedia database (or books in chapters, then section etc.) Also allows a system table of contents to be used as a point to start reading from, or as a access point to allow the user to jump to information else where in within the system.

Graph or network :This structure consists of associative links. These are semantic or pragmatic in nature and truly non-sequential, they bind common or related concepts together within the information space. The ability to browse in a felicitous manner is a major advantage of hypermedia systems. (This is often used in encyclopaedias where the information is accessed from different contexts.)

Salton et al. [6] have shown that by dividing the articles of an encyclopaedia into sections and subsections, each identified by an appropriate section heading, a query can be successfully refined. This retrieval strategy is applicable to a large collection of text.

Automatic Explicit Link Generation.

The largest cost in producing a hypermedia application is authoring. The high cost results from the time spent by a person experienced in the chosen area, selecting and collating the information, and then manually linking the data into a cognitive and pedagogical structure that is easy to navigate [7]. Therefore as much of the process of authoring needs to be automated, thereby reducing the time required of the ‘expert’ to link the hypermedia application and hence reducing the cost.

The hierarchical structure of many technical manuals and procedures comes to the aid of the industrial author. As most chapters, sections, and subsections, etc. are formatted using heading styles (or at least are numbered or in bold if not underlined and normally of a different size font). Yet, the majority of authoring effort is spent on producing these structural and explicit links, in an almost administrative role, to link -

Therefore, the majority of these links can be automatically generated using macro languages available in many modern word-processing packages.

Automatic generation of links is made easier by the use of templates or procedures or guidelines for construction of the documents. These guidelines and templates are a result of the design stage. In practice, several templates/procedures and guidelines are required (i.e. for manuals, memos, reports, specifications, etc). In many companies these will already exist, either as part of the company’s quality procedures or just good practice (improves efficiency and consistency). The author is required to generate the linkbase beforehand, similar to the procedure used if they were to generate the links manually.

Mini-Hypermedia Applications (MHAs).

The information relating to the information on a process line has the advantage that it essentially can be associated with a physical object and not just a concept.

The FIRM Project used a process line at Pirelli Cables Eastleigh. The Pirelli process line consisted of several major pieces of equipment that are integrated together, this lent itself to zonal sectioning. As shown in Figure 2 the different components of the caterpullar are manufactured by different vendors.

The Supertension line at Pirelli contains two caterpullers, each consisting of a drive unit. The drive unit consists of a motor, gearbox and drive cabinet, and drive controller. In addition, the drive controller is also used on other equipment within the same process line and on other process lines within the factory.

The information for these individual components can be viewed as objects of information (see Figure 2). The information for each pieces of equipment was authored separately in a hypermedia application and consisting of all the necessary:

Figure 2 The Diagram shows how the MHA of a Drive can be assembled using pre-authored components from different Manufacturers.

As the size of these application are small compared to the eventual size of an industrial application we have called these Mini-hypermedia applications (MHAs). MHAs will save time (and hence cost) in not having to re-author the same information for units at the same revision level and modification state. MHAs also enabled portability and modularization of components and subsystems on the process line. Hence, a Mini-hypermedia application may contain several other separately authored MHAs.

This process is then extrapolated, to include all the other information within the factory as a whole. As the process line is made up of sub-systems, a larger hypermedia application can also be constructed out of a series of pre-authored mini-hypermedia applications (MHAs). These mini-hypermedia applications can be created ‘off-line’. Hence, the cost of subsequent authoring effort required is reduced as these sub-systems are produced. If a slice through the information space is taken, the structure will appear hierarchical. However, in practice the growth of the information space will be dendritic in nature.

By creating the larger applications out of mini-hypermedia application (MHA), the author is able to use current tools and techniques normally limited to smaller hypermedia applications, for example link maps. Also the smaller application becomes more manageable and therefore reduces the cognitive burden to the author. This method of hierarchical structure allows the user to navigate quickly, providing the levels are not to deep (i.e. limited in number, normally this is less than about 6 levels). The hierarchical structure shown in Figure 2 can also be represented in Microcosm using logical types. These are similar to folders in File Manger or Windows Explorer. However, Microcosm does not store the files in these logical types but only a pointer to where they are in the file management system. Hence, the same file can be referred to many times in different logical types, and yet only one copy will exist.

Diagram of MHA link bases

Figure 3 Diagram showing an example of how different linkbases cab be used to aid maintainability, resuability and authorability of a MHA

Each concept or pedagogical structure is represented by a different group of links, each held in a separate linkbase (figure 3). If there is a conflict i.e. the user could follow different paths, then it is given to the user to decide. In addition links referring to information outside (external to) the MHA are kept separate from those linking information only within (internal to) the MHA. This separation of the links will also increases the maintainability of the MHA.

In addition the separation of internal and external links makes it possible to avoid the danger pointed out by Garzotto et al [8], when re-using information. Garzotto et al. explained that when re-using information containing button links, the meaning of these links could change depending on the context in which they are re-used. An example is the re-use of a node in a MHA with a next button (the next item can be a different item in the re-used version).

As stated earlier the maintainability of the system is improved and revision control of the link made easier by using the hierarchical structures of the information space and the authoring using MHAs. That is, when a MHA is amended, only those linkbases associated with the MHA needs to be ‘frozen’ and stored as part of the change process. In the same way, a copy of the document prior to the amendment is kept as part of the document change procedure. In addition, only the linkbase within a MHA that have been effected need to be ‘frozen’, thereby reducing even further the amount on information stored after an amendment to a MHA.

This method of hierarchical authoring will enable ease of navigation as the links will apply only to the hypermedia application for which it is originally built (child) and any the author imports them into (parent).

For example a mould machine manual will have a section on changing the bearings on the mould machine drive unit. This is then imported as part of a MHA for the whole line. However, when you are working on the mould machine and wanting to change the bearings on a drive unit, you do not want to know about changing the bearings on any other machine (for example the caterpullar drive). Yet, if the user is looking at the line level and queries the system on changing bearings they may want the information on changing the bearing on all the pieces of equipment.

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Compatibility between Different Electronic Applications.

To enable compatibility between different word processing applications in this research, use was made of intermediary format like Rich Text Format (RTF). Also Word 97 was able to import the RTF format for further processing, using macros. The intermediary format used with technical drawing was Data Exchange File format (DXF).

These format were chosen for the following reasons:

However, there can still be problems with using intermediary formats, for examples tables do not always translate correctly, also text that has been arranged using tab settings may not be correctly converted, for example tabs settings can change. Barron presents a wide-ranging survey of the practical issues involved in producing portable documents, including multimedia and hypermedia documents [9].

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Dealing with Paper Legacy Information.

In many industrial environments, documentation, especially manuals from Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) are still in paper format. Hence it was necessary, for viewing and integration into the system to convert the information held on paper into an electronic format. However, once the process of scanning and converting a text document into an electronic format is completed the documents are easier to update.

Converting into Electronic Format.

The scanning process can be time consuming and hence costly. Generally, the length of time required was largely depended on the quality of the paper documents, software, and hardware used. The largest portion of the time is spent on checking and correcting the information after conversion. However, a good quality scanner and software, do cut this time down substantially.

  • TIP 1. When scanning in the documents ensure that the resolution is set to 300 DPI (dots per inch) or greater (the screen setting normally gives about 75 DPI). This may result in larger files than you first require. However, post processing of the images afterwards can reduce the size by resampling and still keep the detail (within reason).
  • Where the documentation are of poor quality (legibility) it is easier to enter the information manually i.e. to retype the documents. In the case of poor quality drawings it is often more cost effective to redraw (or trace) using computer aided drafting, rather than scanning the documents to obtain the electronic version. Note. When a document is converted to electronic format, whether by raster-vector conversion, OCR, or manual entry (retyping, redrawing), it in effect becomes an updated document. Therefore, this converted document should be subject to the same quality control procedures as any other updated document.

    There are three methods used for electronic representation of paper format documents.

    1. To take a photograph-like image of the document, using a raster format (TIFF, Bitmap etc). This has the advantaged that the process is quick and captures the original look and feel of the original document. However, the document cannot be updated (although some systems do allow annotations). This is a good method for use with historical documents (records of events, as an archive) and those that have a low probability of needing to be changed.
    2. To carry out a full conversion of the information using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) for text and raster to vector conversion for the drawings. The advantage is that the documents can be easily amended. There is an extra cost in both time and software required for the conversion.
    3. To use a hybrid system, more commonly used with large complex drawings than text, this system will use the raster image, on top of which is placed a vector layer of important items. The option of hybrid electronic representation as described is not yet available with Microcosm as no viewer could support it. However, there is commercially available software (Adobe Capture/Catalog) that will scan a type text document into RTF and provide a keyword list, for indexing and searching by other programs.

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    Authoring the electronic Information.

    General Linking.

    It is good practice to use description with the links as this will aid searching.

    TIP 2 Reverse the natural order so the you can see the import information in the Result Box. For example a link description of a link between the maintenance manual and COSH procedures naturally goes " Maintenance COSH Bearing Change". The Order should be reversed "Bearing Change Maintenance COSH". Other wise all you will get in the result window is a list of the same words i.e. Maintenance.

    TIP 3 .To enable automatic re-linking of a modified document, where possible try to make use of local and generic links. Generic linking is used for explicit linking i.e. procedure names or numbers, part descriptions, etc. In generic linking the link is formed on the object and not on the location of the object, an object being a word, collection of pixels, a vector, a segment of audio or a frame in a video file. Hence, after an updating of a document, providing that the object is still in the document it will still be linked even if its position within the document has changed. Yet, in practice most links will be button (point -to-point).

    Microcosm does not truly support relative links, in that if the author creates a link that moves the user to another point in the same document, Microcosm will reopen the document. While the author/user can set the options so that the document will appear in the same window, the Microcosm system has to still fetch the document from where the file is stored. Obviously if the file is relatively small in size and on the same machine as the Microcosm system, the user is unaware that the document is reopened. However, if the document is large or over a network stored they will notice a delay and in some cases it is quicker to scroll to the required destination than following the link. Hence, another good reason for splitting documents into logical size chunks of information.

    Using more than one linkbase.

    The internal structural links will be placed into the application linkbase, which is the default linkbase for the application. Another linkbase is required, say for the external links or to represent a different view on the information. The help instruction explain how to create a linkbase under a user name. This is probable the easiest way to ensure that when authoring the new linkbase no one else can put links into the linkbase. However once completed the linkbase can be imported into the filter chain under the application name (the help explains how to do this). If the Linkbase is user dependent it will need to say under the user name. However, if the user is able to make links them selves ensure that an extra blank linkbase is created and placed above the linkbase you have created for that user. Where the author has created user dependent links, remember to also export the user information when exporting the application from the development to the application domain.

    Saving Settings.

    During the authoring process, the author can save settings (size, colour, position etc.) These will automatically be saved under the user name of the author in the registry. Once the authoring is completed it is nessessary to place these into the application branch in the registry. This is achieved by exporting the information as a .ini file, and then re-importing it back into the appropriate application logical branch.

    Working with Forms.

    Where copies of paper forms are to be used in the electronic system, it is not sufficient just to scan the details into electronic format, as data entry is required. Any commercial available database e.g. Microsoft Access can be used to create on line forms. Other programs can the access the information for further manipulation, i.e. producing charts, report, etc. Note, as yet no Microcosm aware database exists in the commercial release. Hence you can use Microsoft Access as long as you write a macro that removes the menus and toolbars that would allow the unauthorised user to change the design of the form.

    TIP 4 You need to set-up a new document type an example of the settings are:-

    Note the icon must be 21 x 21 pixels or less. Microsoft access will also allow the author to specify that the form be displayed when the file is open.

    Working with DXF Drawings.

    When authoring technical drawings in AutoCAD, use is made of the ability to define blocks, on which links can be made to the name or attributes of the block. Therefore, a short yet unique descriptive name was used for each block. When the links are made in the DXF version of the drawing, the name (or attribute) of a block is used to form the link and the physical location. Hence, when the drawing is updated, and a block is moved within the drawing, the links referring to that block do not require re-linking.

    Working with Text Documents.

    The format used for displaying text documents in Microcosm is the RTF format.

    TIP 5 When creating the electronic documents for viewing only, change the page settings so that the boarder are 0.5 cm, this will ensure the text uses as much of the window as possible (no large white space).

    Microcosm allows the author to put images into the drawing. However, in the current release the size of the images is limited to approximately 100 Kb. This does not include item drawn using Microsoft Word, as these are not supported in Microcosm. Images can often break the flow of the text if they are positioned incorrectly or take up to much space. The readability of the document can be improved by using a thumbnail sketch of the drawing. A link is then made from the thumbnail sketch to the actual drawings.

    The RTF viewer counts an image as one character. Therefore, when scrolling a piece of text with images, the text will appear to jump. This is a result of the image reaching the top (or bottom) of the viewing window and the next line it is removed from (or appears in, depending on the direction of scrolling) the window.

    The RTF viewer text wraps the text, that is as a window is resized the text tries to fit in the window. However, it will not wrap tables when the window size is smaller in width than the table, and the RTF viewer does not produce a scroll bar for the user to see the table. Hence, an author should try to fit the table into the area they have designated for the display of the text document. Alternatively, for large tables the author could create a link from the text or a thumbnail to a bitmap of the table.

    Footnotes can also be added to the Word document, the note appears as the cursor is placed over the footnote number.

    Viewing black text on a white background can cause disorientation. Therefore, try using colours for heading. The background can be changed to one of sixteen colours within the RTF viewer. Note the background colour in Word does not work, the RTF viewer will not display it. However, it will display shaded text.

    Note Office 97 is not supported in Microcosm therefore images imported into Office 97 cannot be viewed in the RTF viewer no matter what the size.

    Working with Bitmaps.

    The yellow box that pops-up when you move the cursor over the button area is called a label in Microcosm. The option Display Labels needs to be set to visible (found in the options menu under Button Style). The information displayed is the link description. This is another good reason for using a meaningful description.

    Unfortunately, there is no solution as yet (see the MAVIS project [10]) to solve the problem of re-linking digitised raster images, as a component within the image is represented by a collection of pixels bound by a set of rectangular co-ordinates. If a drawing is updated, and an item moved, the link will need to be remade and the linkbase updated. You could either delete the old link and make another or edit the linkbase using the link-editor and update the co-ordinates.

    TIP 6. Working with Technical Drawings as Bitmaps. There are two possible scenarios here.

    Producing Thumbnails.

    Thumbnails are created by importing the images into a studio program (for example Paint Shop Pro) and re-sampling the units to say 160 x 90, with 16 colours. Re-sampling is better than resizing as none of the overall detail is lost.

    Image of a Thumbnail Sketch

    Figure 4 Example of a thumbnail sketch in text

    Producing a Guided Tour.

    A guided tour is can be used to represent the original structure of a document that has been dissected or to bind a group of documents together. This allows the structure intended by the original author to be maintained.

    There are three ways to create a Guided Tour.

    1. By far the easiest method is to use a saved History. This can get awkward if the number of documents is large (approximately greater than 30), as the author needs to remember the order of the documents, as Microcosm stores the pointer names alphabetically, within the logical type.
    2. Using the scripting language. This is very effective way of pulling a large document together.

    TIP 7. Note a saved history can be converted to the scripting language as a first step. Then using Wordpad the script can be edited.

    TIP 8. The nodes do not need to be displayed in the order they appear in the script. Therefore, if documents need to be added or deleted you only need to change the order of the numbers in the 'mimic1' section of the script.

    TIP 9. The author needs to know the unique ID, description and type of the files to produce the guided tour. This can be time consuming with large documents. However, these can be obtained by COPYING the appropriate lines from the Docuverse and imported into Word pad. The unnecessary information is then edited out. At the same time the keywords \UniqueID, \Description and \Type are replaced with respectively description, document and doctype using replace all, then copied into the appropriate place in the scripting language.

    3. Using the Form based tool. This is quite a useful tool for carrying out short amendments to the tour. However for completeness (and revision control) the scripting language should also be changed.

    Making the application portable.

    The help manual describes how to include path variables instead of actual path names so that an application can be moved from physical location to another. Hence the author only need change the path variable setting and automatically the paths for the filters, docuverse and linkbase will change, when the application is moved.

    It is necessary to define the application path variable by hand. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that the author implements path variable immediately after creating the application, before documents are imported into Microcosm. Also remember to change the .ddf files for the linkbases, and in the registry the location of the invert file (under the computer links) and the Filter settings (available and filters, under FiltMan).

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    The report explains practicalities of authoring an industrial hypermedia application using Microcosm whilst taking into account the requirements and restraints imposed by the industrial environment. Namely: time (cost); reducing the cognitive burden to the author; and documentation control (maintainability).

    While the authoring is made easier when the documentation is in the required electronic format, the reality is than there is still an enormous amount of information held on legacy paper and electronic information systems. Therefore, this report has examined some of the practicalities involved in converting information for use in the Microcosm hypermedia system. The strategy has been used to design and implement an industrial hypermedia system, which is currently under user evaluation.



    The authors acknowledge the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Science Research Council) for funding the work under grant numbers GR/H/43038 and GR/L/10482, and Pirelli Cables, Eastleigh for allowing us to use their site for a case study.


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    4. Goose S A framework for Distributed Open Hypermedia 1997, PhD thesis University of Southampton. Available at; http://www.mmrg.ecs.soton.ac.uk/publications/papers/thesis97/sgoose.html
    5. Ginige A, Lowe D. Hypermedia Engineering: Process for developing large hypermedia systems. Tutorial at The Eighth ACM Conference on Hypertext. Southampton, UK. , 9-11 April 1997.
    6. Salton G, Allan J, Buckley C. Automatic Structuring and Retrieval of Large Text Files. Communications of the ACM, February 1994, Vol 37, No2. P97-108.
    7. Crowder RM, Wills GB, Heath I, Hall W. The Application Of Hypermedia In The Factory Information Environment. IEE 5th International Conference on FACTORY 2000, Cambridge, UK 2-4 April 1997.
    8. Garzotto F , Luca Mainetti L, Paolini P.Information Reuse in Hypermedia Applications. HYPERTEXT'96 The Seventh ACM Conference on Hypertext, Washington DC March 16-20 1996. pp 93-104
    9. Barron DW . Portable documents: problems and (partial) solutions.Electronic Publishing. Origination, Dissemination and Design. Volume 8 Issue 4 December 1997 pp 343-367.
    10. Lewis P. MAVIS Available at http://www.mmrg.ecs.soton.ac.uk/projects/mavis2.html.


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