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Spatial Dataland - 1977
October 6, 2003
/Mike Liebhold

Exchanges with colleagues last week about zoomable interfaces reminded me that Nicholas Negroponte and his colleagues  [William Donelson ]*** at the MIT Architecture Machine group actually developed a user interface called Dataland at MIT before 1977 and built beautiful running prototypes of systems many are still struggling to emmulate to this day: orbital views and maps with a Zooming User Interface to embedded objects at a personal level, based on what Nicholas and Richard Bolt  [William Donelson ]*** called SDMS – Spatial Data Management System

* * *
Updated May 3, 2004 : Here's a long overdue amendment to the history of developement of the MIT SDMS The Spatial Data Management System, that I cited above as developed by  Richard Bolt

MIT ArchMach graduate, William Donelson  e-mailed to  correct the record, referring  " to  my MIT work called "The Spatial Data Management System", which formed my Master's Thesis of 1978. Dr Bolt later wrote a report on this work for our sponsors.

You can find out more about my 1975-1978 ACM-published work at the ACM website

The design work on the SDMS and SDMS II systems which were completed in the 1975-1980 time period. ...The improved SDMS II was presented in 1978 to Siggraph, with an updated video the following year.  I, myself, did at least 85% of the design, and almost all the implementation, with the help of several other students on some of the "utilities" such as the Calculator (Chris Schandt, now a professor at the Media Lab MIT) and the Phone Book system (by my friend Joe Rice), etc. "

William Donelson is now the proprietor of the very high quality virtual tour site:

* * *
Rod Perkins, one of the inventors of the Lisa user interface recalls Dataland as a critical influence on Bill Atkinson's designs for the Lisa (and later Macintosh) computers in this article [pdf] that Rod wrote called "Inventing the User Interface" with Frank Luddolph, and Dan Smith Keller:

"Son of DataLand"

"In a clandestine effort, some of us decided to investigate the problem on our own time...Bill Atkinson recalled a trip to the M.I.T. 'ArchMac' he had made earlier, in which he saw a futuristic data navigation system called "DataLand" [Negroponte 79]. In this system, a person sits in a chair with two hand controls and faces a large screen. The controls allow you to "fly" over some data space projected on a large screen in front of you, in this case the Boston area, and then to zoom in to very fine levels of detail, or zoom out to see a huge geographical area. Bill adapted this idea to the filing problem by creating an enormous virtual desktop, perhaps a mile square, and then providing methods for very quickly moving around and zooming in or out . The idea was that icons would be used for documents, and that they would be organized spatially, with related documents placed near each other ..."



Spatial Dataland - 1977
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