Posted May 8, 2013 in links, visualisation | No Comments so far
Fast Company has a piece about a research project which redraws the map of the United States based on the movement of paper currency.
Dirk Brockmann, a theoretical physicist, is the person responsible for it. He thinks that state lines are arbitrary boundaries with no relation to how people actually live and move around, and that we should rethink our representations of how human societies arrange themselves across geographic space.
In one such effort he’s taken data from a website called Where’s George which tracks the movements of dollar bills, and used it to draw a new map of the US whose borders indicate the regions where money tends to circulate. The thicker a blue line, the less likely it is that paper currency will cross it.
Dirk Brockmann’s US map based on the movements of dollar bills
One thing that leaps out at me is the circular region with Chicago at its centre. This region’s boundary starts in the north-east and follows the Appalatians southwards for a bit, flattening out westwards when it meets the Kentucky-Tennessee border, then curving back up to the north as it crosses St Louis. If you used its borders to create a new state – let’s call it “Chicago State” it would eat up parts of nine existing states, including all of Michigan, all of Ohio, and the western half of Pennsylvania.
I like this kind of analysis as it recognises the fluidity of human societies and takes advantage of information that would have been nigh on impossible to obtain a couple of decades ago. Projects like this help us learn more about the real ‘shapes’ of the countries and areas we live in.
Tags: data, maps, money | Comments (0)
Posted April 26, 2013 in visualisation | No Comments so far
I enjoyed reading Stephen Wolfram summarising his team’s analysis of Facebook data. The infographics aren’t just neat and easy on the eye, they offer up their insights without fuss or clutter. The writing is pitched well, informative without being intimidating or patronising. And among the graphs and the science you can detect something organic, something messy, something that can be faintly painful if you think about it too much.
Relationship status by age, taken from Wolfram’s analysis of Facebook data
For me, it comes out most strongly when I look at the greyish sliver that opens up towards the top-right of the above graph, which represents the proportion of people whose relationship status is “widowed”.
This isn’t the most interesting or surprising piece of information on the page, nor is it the most novel or engaging graphic, but it’s the one that most brought home to me that beneath this sea of data, and beneath the sterile light-blue facade of Facebook, there’s something else going on: real, human, life.
Tags: facebook, infographics, links | Comments (0)
Posted February 1, 2013 in ephemera, mind mapping, visualisation | No Comments so far
Japanese Twitter user @Kya7y has shared a highly intricate maze that her dad spent 7 years drawing. To read about it in English head over to Spoon & Tamago:
Some people have hobbies. Other people are obsessive… @Kya7y recently unearthed an incredibly detailed maze that her father created almost 30 years ago. When pressed for details, the father explained that he spent 7 years creating the map on A1 size paper, which is about 33 x 23 inches.
Here’s just one picture of the maze – read the full article for more.
Photo of maze, from Spoon & Tamago
From a distance it looks like the street plan of a city located on a comically overpopulated alien planet, but as you descend from its upper atmosphere and approach street level a different feel emerges: organic, messy, neural, brainlike, obviously human. A feel it wouldn’t have if it had been made on a computer. You can’t help but be impressed at the level of detail, the dedication and the craftsmanship that went into creating it.
The sensation it leaves me with is a bit like looking into another person’s mind as they drift off to sleep and dream-thoughts start warping the linear flow of waking consciousness. So I’m left wondering. Is it best understood as a maze, or as a streetmap of its creator’s mind?
Posted January 17, 2011 in ephemera, visualisation | No Comments so far
In looking for alternatives to Amazon, I’ve come across quite a few websites that are completely new to me. One of them is The Book Depository, a well-stocked online bookstore whose prices seem, so far, to be competitive with Amazon’s.
The Book Depository has a nice feature called “Book Depository Live“, which allows you to see people buying books in (quasi) real time. Using Google Maps, the feature scrolls across the globe to show you the buyer’s location and the purchased book’s title.
Someone in South Africa buys a book
If I could make a suggestion to the people behind this feature, it would be that the links to books should open in new tabs. That way you could click on a book that looks intriguing without being taken away from the map view. As it is, you need to hold Shift (or Cmd if you’re on a Mac) while clicking if you want to stay on the map.
Despite this minor quibble, though, I like this feature. It reminds me of when Twitter was still new and visualisations of tweets superimposed on top of world maps were doing the rounds. Those projects were hypnotic but ultimately empty, because Twitter content suffers when isolated from conversational context. But in The Book Depository Live you might come across an interesting-looking book that you end up buying, and maybe being affected by in some way. I guess that’s something a book has over a tweet.
Tags: amazon, books | Comments (0)
Posted November 15, 2010 in ephemera, visualisation | No Comments so far
I’ve been thinking a lot about online maps recently. This is probably because I spent most of October in France, depending mainly on Google Maps for finding my way around. They’ve certainly come a long way in the last ten years. Remember when Streetmap seemed fresh and exciting? It seems like such a dinosaur now, compared to the more advanced map services that have come along since then.
There’s something appealingly recursive about online maps too. Before, there were no computers and we all lived in the real world, in physical space. Then the internet came along, and we had to learn how to navigate this new virtual world, an “information space”, represented by windows and menus and buttons and so on.
After a while, the information space itself became rich enough to contain useful maps. In other words, we encountered the physical space represented within the virtual space, which we in turn encountered in the physical space. Maybe this graphic will help:
Click to see full-size graphic
OK, maybe not. But if you ever find yourself walking down a street while ignoring your surroundings and looking only at the blinking blue dot on your phone’s mapping application, you might know what I mean. And yes, I’ve done that.
Tags: maps | Comments (0)
Posted February 3, 2009 in social media, visualisation | No Comments so far
I promise I’ll stop posting links to these one day. Anyway, this is from a series of Superbowl-related interactive visualisations produced by the New York Times:
Unlike the visualisation of #inauguration posts I linked to recently, this isn’t based on hash tags but instead uses moving tag clouds to illustrate the volume of Twitter posts on various subjects during the Super Bowl.
Examples include “Cardinals vs Steelers” (I know the Steelers are from Pittsburgh but from this animation I’d guess the Cardinals are from… Las Vegas? San Diego?), “talking about ads” (it’s vaguely depressing to see how much conversation the ads inspire) and player names (a guy called Fitzgerald obviously does something notable in the fourth quarter).
This is maybe the most effective use of Twitter data I’ve seen so far, as it is centred around a single event but tracks various subjects of conversation related to that event. A far simpler and less interesting animation would have simply flagged every post with the hash tag #superbowl.
Tags: links, twitter, visualisation | Comments (0)
Posted January 23, 2009 in social media, visualisation | No Comments so far
This animated map from FlowingData shows the global location of each Twitter post tagged as #inauguration between Monday and Wednesday this week.
Although the world map isn’t shown, over time the US and the UK become almost perfectly defined by the density of Twitter post markers. You can also see outlines of south America and western Europe.
The big flurry happens when the US wakes up on Tuesday morning…
Tags: twitter, visualisation | Comments (0)
Posted November 26, 2008 in media, visualisation | No Comments so far
Last night I watched IOUSA on the BBC iPlayer (unfortunately this was over cable TV – I can’t find it on the web iPlayer). It’s a film made by the former US Comptroller General, David Walker, which attempts to convince the viewer of the seriousness of America’s national debt problem.
…and it worked on me. The most effective aspect of the film was its use of infographics to convey a sense of historical scale. At its core was a recurring animated graphic showing the national debt from America’s inception through to the end of the George W Bush era in 2008.
Early on in the film you see the rises in the national debt from $0 in 1835 (the only point in history when it hit zero) up until the start of World War One. After that the graphic has to keep zooming out to fit in the subsequent growth. The Great Depression sees a quite unnerving hike – but as the World War Two period looms into view, it looks like a sheer cliff face. This is a shot of the graphic running up until 1988:
In the Clinton era the debt comes down, but then Bush takes charge in 2000 and things go through the roof, rocketing past WW2′s peak. The final sequence involving this graphic displays a projection for debt growth through to 2040. Baby boomers are set to retire en masse shortly and the effect on Social Security and Medicare spending will not be good. The effect this has on the infographic – the drastic zoom needed to chart the debt up to 2040 – almost gave me a sense of vertigo. It paints a pretty dystopian vision of the future.
Even though the film is unlikely to contain any new information for someone with more than an advanced lay knowledge of the current economic situation, I’d strongly recommend watching it. As well as the extremely well designed and animated graphics, it does a remarkably effective job of communicating the seriousness of the situation even to viewers who are already aware of most of the facts.
Tags: economics, links, visualisation | Comments (0)
Posted August 29, 2008 in visualisation | 1 Comment so far
A nice week-by-week visualisation of the US box office takings throughout 2008. It gives you a good sense of how quickly many films drop off the radar, and also of the size of the gap between successful movies and (comparative) flops.
As you scroll along to the right, for example, you’ll find yourself thinking that Iron Man looks pretty impressive. Then you’ll get to The Dark Knight…
Tags: links, movies, visualisation | Comments (1)
Posted July 23, 2008 in visualisation | No Comments so far
I recommend reading this blog post from Jeffrey Veen, author of “The Art & Science of Web Design”.
You may be familiar with Dr John Snow as the man who successfully traced the source of London’s 1854 cholera outbreak. A pub on Broadwick Street in Soho is named after him, and the water-pump that started it all is preserved outside as a monument.
This post discusses the way the in which Dr Snow helped to ‘sell’ the results of his research, adapting an existing visualisation to create an overlaid map which communicated, in a far more immediate way than raw data or polemic might have done, the central thrust of his argument.
It’s an interesting and early example of how well-designed data visualisations can quickly convey information which could otherwise be comprehensible only to experts and adepts.
Tags: links, pubs, visualisation | Comments (0)