suspicious infoviz of the day
Just found out about Political Streams.
I really do like this idea, but reinventing the pie chart with those desaturated squares is not a good start. I'll be checking it out to see how they iterate on representing the concept, which is fascinating.
It mines information from all the blogs and Web sites out there, and all on one screen, lets you see the relative popularity of any given story, whether it's trending up or down, and tracks the number of mentions of the people and places mentioned in the story.
The graphs, by contrast are wonderful and straightforward:
oh and cf. Microsoft Blews (TM) which has similar data (and infoviz problems).
While typical news-aggregation sites do a good job of clustering news stories according to topic, they leave the reader without information about which stories figure prominently in political discourse. BLEWS uses political blogs to categorize news stories according to their reception in the conservative and liberal blogospheres. It visualizes information about which stories are linked to from conservative and liberal blogs, and it indicates the level of emotional charge in the discussion of the news story or topic at hand in both political camps. BLEWS also offers a 'see the view from the other side' functionality, enabling a reader to compare different views on the same story from different sides of the political spectrum. BLEWS achieves this goal by digesting and analyzing a real-time feed of political-blog posts provided by the Live Labs Social Media platform, adding both link analysis and text analysis of the blog posts.
Personal metrics, infoviz porn & productivity obsession
I've recently been reading quite a bit about "personal metrics" (aka "attention data", aka your "information wake"). Pictured are some examples from Last.fm, Nike+ and RescueTime (which I used for a few days this week! My Saturday computing is visualized below.)
As an infoviz junkie, I have to say that I have always adored this stuff. But the tonight I heard a very smart person say that, prior to Nike+, collaborative running was impossible.
Wait, really? How did we get to the point that we need a website, an RFID chip, and an iPod to coordinate running with friends?
And, perhaps more importantly, when did we start to forget it was possible otherwise?
Information visualization of this kind exudes authority and direction — it gives you clear goals, measurable output, definitive results. It facilitates competition, reward, efficiency and progress. Sexy, sure. But so does fascism.
In these graphs, I see a kind of quiet aplomb that says, "look, buddy, this infoviz shit clearly says that I know so bloody much about what I'm doing, and it's very likely that I'm doing it all twice as well as you are, sub-aware urchin."
There's indeed an air of inevitability about it all, but why?
Is it inevitable that, just because it is possible, that we must practice self-surveillance?
Are we really doing it for ourselves, as a form of personal empowerment? When I use Last.fm to track what I listen to, how much more do I become socially self-conscious, using my playlist for competitive leverage among my peers? Can I become more socially invested in the metrics than emotionally invested in the music?
When I use RescueTime to track everything I do on my computer, how much more efficiency-oriented and self-conscious do I become? Can I become more passionate about my productivity than my job?
And with Nike+, does my daily run become more compelling just because it is more competitive and metrics based? Can I love the satisfaction of the graph more than the outdoors? Is it possible to be satisfied by the graphs alone? Is it possible to be more concerned with your attention data than to the stuff you're actually paying attention to?
Beautiful Packaging, Ugly Statistics
Recently in my commutes to work I've been using these incredible flash-based, interactive representations of development statistics. (Don't worry, I ride the bus.) These modules, created by a Swedish group called Gapminder, are attractively designed and highly educational. I have long been a great fan of sharp design in the interest of development. These are as great a communication tool as I have ever seen.
From the Gapminder website:
"Gapminder is a non-profit venture for development and provision of free software that visualize human development. ... It all started in 1998 from an idea to enhance the understanding of world health. We developed prototype software showing time series of health statistics as moving graphics and varying life conditions as 360¬? photo panoramas from homes, schools and health facilities. From the prototype emerged the Dollar Street project with Save the Children Fund in Sweden and the World Health Chart project with WHO. Within the later project Gapminder developed the free software Trendalyzer that turns boring time series of development statistics into attractive moving graphics. "