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As part of this year's VisWeek Discovery Exhibition (see earlier entry) we will post the collected visualization stories not only on the event's website but also directly here on Infosthetics. As a teaser, here is a first visualization story about Microsoft Research's Hotmap. If you have similarly interesting stories to tell about your tool, a tool you're using, or a tool your clients are using, please consider submitting it to the Exhibit (deadline is July 17th).

Summary of the Tool
Hotmap is a visualization tool designed to gain an understanding into how people interact with online maps. It was released internally at Microsoft in 2006 as a research prototype; its use was monitored as it was developed further. A public edition of Hotmap was released in 2007; the authors have collected feedback on that tool since.

Range of Impact
There were many different parts of the Virtual Earth team that were informed by Hotmap. The developer API, imagery planning, marketing, and usability groups all used Hotmap to understand better how VE was being used and developed. Also outside vendors benefited after the tool's public release.

Summary of its Impact

Document Usage to Improve Usability
Hotmap was used to allow the Virtual Earth team to learn what existing imagery VE users liked to look at and ultimately to target the purchase of new imagery, leading to considerable cost savings. The image below shows the focus of interest on the continental US (plus scrolling artifacts).


Documenting Errors
Hotmap acted as a way to catch errors and let the team document the failure mode more clearly to developers. The star in the figure below shows a frequent reference to coordinate (0, 0).


Documenting Attacks
The tool provided awareness of scraping attacks and security measures were designed into later versions. In the picture below the faint highlight over greater China, and the brighter colors over the coastal area suggest repeated scraping of the data.


Additional information
Several research papers give more information on the tool, and a more detailed description of its range of impact can be found on its Discovery Exhibition entry page.