This Map needs no folding

Networks are interesting places. Drawing pictures of those places can make them much more useful resources, according to Tim Bray, CEO and founder of Systems Inc.

Last month, the Vancouver-based company launched its Web site,, an integrated map of the Internet. Using the site as a showcase for’s Visual Net network-mapping product, Bray said it allows users to explore the Web visually.

“A lot of Web sites are too big to hold in your head, so you need a map,” Bray said. “I think people’s minds react well to landscapes. Whether they are small desktop-size or large landscapes continent-size, they are really effective ways to communicate information to humans. Why fight it?”

According to Bray, Visual Net is ideally suited as a tool to depict enterprise networks.

“If you look at the studies of network utilization, they say that people tend to go back to the same five places all the time. They don’t invest any time in poking around the network to see what’s there. That’s nuts, considering the speed in which new stuff is being put on every network in the world.”

Bray said the reason why people do not explore networks is because it is time-consuming and not fun. The Visual Net will make the process more efficient and enjoyable for users, he said.

“I don’t think search engines are in any danger, but I think there are important kinds of questions that search engines just don’t do a good job on,” he said.

Bray said Visual Net takes data and lays it out on a map. The software then “runs around and does a huge amount of analysis on the data to determine how many pages there are in each resource and what the quality is. We will take over the job of drawing pictures for your network and making it more useable for your people.”

According to the company, Visual Net operates on an ASP basis and Bray said the company does the initial network design and will “host and outsource the entire thing.”

Peter O’Kelly, a senior analyst with Patricia Seybold Group, an industry analysis and consulting firm in Boston, said he was skeptical at first whether Visual Net would meet his company’s expectations.

“I don’t think anybody has come up with a mainstream-accessible or mainstream-palpable solution,” O’Kelly said. “Basically so far from what I have seen, I have been pleasantly surprised. It is simple, it performs well and when you consider the scope of the database that they are presenting, I think the performance is really quite good.”

O’Kelly said Visual Net provides thought-provoking and useful suggestions for enterprise networks. He said the ability to find information in proximity to other related things is appealing.

“When you and I go out and start looking for information on the Patricia Seybold Group, for example, we are going to see it in relation with the same things,” O’Kelly said. “We are not going to go out and get an undifferentiated list of 10,000 hits that might possibly be related.”

Though O’Kelly said he finds the product very approachable and would recommend it, he said new users may require more user assistance, such as tutorials or starter modes.

Visual Net is available for a monthly fee of $5,000. is on the net at