Desirable attributes for interactive identification programs

Mike Dallwitz miked at ENTO.CSIRO.AU
Wed Dec 14 16:40:04 CST 1994

                                                               14 December 1994

Would anyone be prepared to do comparative reviews of some of the interactive
identification programs now available? The reviews could be published on
Taxacom and/or in the DELTA Newsletter.

As a basis for such reviews, I am appending a list of attributes which I
consider desirable for interactive identification and information retrieval
programs. The list probably has a bias towards our own program, INTKEY, and I
would be happy to make any additions necessary to allow good features of other
programs to be recorded.

Please post any comments to delta-l at or Taxacom. I will later post
a revised list and consolidated discussion on Taxacom.

Mike Dallwitz                                  Internet md at
CSIRO Division of Entomology                   Fax +61 6 246 4000
GPO Box 1700, Canberra ACT 2601, Australia     Phone +61 6 246 4075

            Desirable Attributes for Interactive Identification and
                         Information Retrieval Systems

                        M. J. Dallwitz  14 December 1994

The possible scores are usually `Yes', `Partial', and `No'.

Error tolerance. The ability to reach a correct identification after errors
have been made, or if there are errors in the data.

Unrestricted character use. The absence of restrictions on the order in which
characters can be used (apart from restrictions imposed by character
dependencies - see below).

`Best' characters. Whether the program can advise on the most suitable
characters for use at any stage of an identification. `Partial' indicates a
lack of flexibility in this area, usually owing to the recommendations being
built into the data, as in a key or rule-based expert system.

Multiple state selection. Whether the user can specify uncertainty by entering
more than one state value, or a range of numeric values.

Character deletion/changing. Whether characters used in an identification can
be removed, or their values changed. `Partial' indicates that removal is
possible only in the reverse order of use.

Character weighting. Whether character weights can be used in the calculation
of `best' characters. `Partial' indicates that higher weights always imply
`better' characters, regardless of other considerations.

Text characters. Whether free-text information about taxa can be stored and

Numeric characters. Whether numeric characters can be used directly (without
dividing them into ranges.

Gaps for integer numeric characters. Whether recorded values for integer
numeric character can contain gaps, e.g. `5 or 10' distinguishable from `5 to

Uncertainty ranges. Whether single numeric values in the original data can be
treated as ranges for identification purposes. `Partial' indicates that the
transformation is not under the control of the interactive user (as in the

Inapplicable/unknown. Whether inapplicable values are distiguished from unknown

Control of value matching. Whether the user has control over whether
overlapping, unknown, and inapplicable values are deemed to match other values.
`Partial' indicates limited control, e.g. `identification' vs. `information
retrieval' settings.

Character dependencies. Whether the program is aware of character dependencies,
i.e., characters which are inapplicable when other characters take certain

No dependency restrictions. Whether there are restrictions on the order in
which dependent/controlling characters may be used.

Keywords. Whether there is a mechanism for referring to subsets of the
characters and taxa. `Partial' indicates that such subsets cannot be defined by
the user (i.e. are built into the system).

Character notes or glossaries. Whether extensive text to aid interpretation of
characters can be conveniently available within the system.

Information retrieval. Whether the system can be used for information retrieval
(e.g. displaying descriptions, finding all taxa which have certain combinations
of attributes).

Differences between taxa. Whether the program can find the differences between
members of a set of taxa. `Partial' indicates that the set must contain only 2

Similarities between taxa. Whether the program can find the similarities
between members of a set of taxa.

Diagnostic descriptions. Whether the program can find diagnostic descriptions.
`Partial' indicates inability to distiguish between taxon and specimen
diagnostic descriptions, or inability to restrict the choice of characters to
those not used in the current identification.

Character-value distributions. Whether the program can display the distribution
of character values within a set of taxa.

Global restriction to subsets. Whether it is possible to specify subsets of
characters and taxa to which all subsequent operations will be restricted.

Local restriction to subsets. Whether it is possible to specify subsets of
characters and taxa for the operation of a single command.

Searching the character list. Finding text strings in the character list.

Illustrations. Whether illustrations of character and taxa can be displayed.

Flexible display of illustrations. Whether illustrations of any size can be
scaled, scrolled, repositioned, and displayed simultaneously.

State selection from character illustrations. Whether character state values
can be selected from illustration screens during identification.

Text on illustrations. Whether text can be superimposed on illustrations
(instead of being built into the illustrations).

Import DELTA format. Whether DELTA-format data can be used to create the
interactive system.

Export DELTA format. Whether DELTA-format data can be exported from the
interactive system.

Links with description writing. Whether publication-quality descriptions can be
generated from the same data that are used to construct the identification

Links with key generation. Whether conventional keys can be generated from the
same data that are used to construct the identification system.

Links with classification. Whether cladistic and phenetic analyses can be
carried out from the same data that are used to construct the identification

Command files or macros. Whether there is a mechanism for storing and repeating
a series of operations.

Log files. Whether it is possible to create a file showing the history (input
and output) of a session.

Data output. Whether it is possible to output program results in forms suitable
for input to other programs.

Online help. Whether the program has complete, built-in help. `Partial'
indicates that the help is not context sensitive.

External program text. Whether the program text (commands, help, messages,
etc.) is external to the program, allowing easy creation and use of different
language versions.

Maximum field lengths. Limits (if any) on lengths of text and other fields
(e.g. taxon names, text of characters, character notes, number of character

Maximum size of data. Maximum number of characters and taxa.

Memory requirements. Program memory requirements (including dependence on data
size, if applicable).

Execution speed. Execution times of representative operations on a reasonably
large data set (e.g. 200 characters, 400 taxa).

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