The University of Kentucky Center for Visualization & Virtual Environments

A New Way To See Product Reviews

The Internet changed the way we shop.  Today we can order anything online, ship it straight to our door, and never set foot in the mall again.  The Internet not only transformed how we make purchases, it also revolutionized how we choose what to buy.  With the Internet, the cost of acquiring information about various products is significantly reduced.  It is easy to go to several different sites and compare prices and reviews of various products.

For example, before you choose a camera to buy, you want to be sure that you are getting your money’s worth so you would read other customers’ reviews.  Some reviews are text only, some have pictures and text, and some are videos.  Since these reviews can become powerful sales tools for companies, Dr. Radhika Santhanam decided to research the effect different types of reviews can have on the consumer’s perception of the product.

To research this, Dr. Santhanam’s graduate students, Pei Xu, Lijuan Wu, and Liang Chen, set up an experimental study of three products.  Each product had a review in three formats – text, text and pictures, and video – though the information used in each format remained the same for each review, regardless of the set up.  They researched, “the extent to which visual media in online product reviews that are given by customers persuade other prospective customers to purchase the product,” Dr. Santhanam explained.

Results show that video reviews are the best tool in online shopping.  There is little difference between the influence of text reviews and that of image-based reviews.  A company’s knowledge of how to best present customer reviews can be an influential sales tool, resulting in improved sales of a product.  Researchers hope to eventually be able to tell a company which review mode will work best to promote sales of a certain product.

Dr. Santhanam hopes to continue research in online product reviews with the University of Kentucky’s Vis Center to improve the visualization used in reviews.  With the development of haptic interfaces, or systems that allow you to touch and manipulate a virtual object, haptic reviews may be even more powerful than video reviews.  As more and more companies close brick and mortar stores and sell exclusively online, customer reviews will drive sales even more.

Seeing Math in a New Way

For most freshmen, the easiest part of Math 109 is looking at a graph. Actually understanding how the graph relates to the equation may be another story, but seeing the points and general shape of the graph causes no problem. However, Haden Pike, a visually impaired freshman studying computer science, has the opposite problem – “I understand what the function was, but exactly how it was graphed, I had no idea.”

As a computer science student, he must take certain math classes. Haden had a math tutor, but he needed a way to visualize the graphs when he was studying on his own. The Math Department enlisted Bill Gregory of the Vis Center to develop a way to help Haden succeed in class.

Originally, Bill wanted to use the Vis Center’s 3D printer to make a 3D print of each graph. However, it took two or three hours to print one graph, so it was not a practical way to help Haden visualize the graphs. Instead, Bill used a laser cutter and GeoGebra, a freeware program, to generate a graph. The line of the function was indented, so Haden could run a pen along the indentation and gather enough information about the graph to understand the function’s graph.

With Haden relying totally on tactile feedback, Bill needed to work out some kinks. The extra grid lines often confused Haden, so Bill made these lines very faint. Haden also had trouble finding the graph’s origin, so Bill put a hole on the graph to denote it.
Haden says, “It helped me understand visually what the expression was.” The Vis Center’s models allowed Haden to review on his own time; he could refer back to his notes and have a physical representation of the graph examples from class. Haden is considering a career in teaching computer science; he said, “So along with computer science that I also enjoy, why not teaching?”

Integrating Digital Papyrology (IDP)

Learning how people lived during ancient times requires piecing together clues likes a jigsaw puzzle. One good source of these clues is the bits and pieces of papyri that have been preserved across centuries. These bits of papyrus may contain a shopping list, a land contract or other information that tells us how these ancient people lived their day-to-day lives.

However, studying these various papyri has been a great challenge given their fragility and difficulty of access. Recently Vis Center researchers collaborated with a team from Duke University to create a new online system for papyrological research. Dr. Joshua Sosin from Duke University and Ryan Baumann from the University of Kentucky were part of the team that worked together on the project called Integrating Digital Papyrology (IDP). The final product is an online editing system for collaborative editing.
The greatest challenge of this project was to make the system user-friendly. In order to create the editing tools, the team had to create a new programming language called Leiden+ which combines XML and papyrological markup language. The system also allows for translation edits for each papyri and for other notes to be made. The user submits the changes to a board that then authorizes the changes to be made.

Allowing easy access for researchers to communicate about revisions for the text accelerates the pace of research. The team hopes that the online system will replace the slow pace of print mechanisms for publishing these papyi. Dr. Sosin points out that given the rarity of these papyri that “every bit of data is deadly precious” which means the online system presents a real opportunity for deepened research for the e-papyrological community.

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