1. Another Twitter visualisation

    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:

    Screenshot of NYT Twitter visualisation

    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.

  2. Presidential inauguration – Twitter visualisation

    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.

    Twitter visualisation from FlowingData

    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…

  3. Infographics at work

    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:

    US national debt through to 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.

    Pie chart

    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.

  4. The 2008 US box office visualised

    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…

  5. I’ve seen the future and it’s… a bit like MacOS X

    Posted August 11, 2008 in projects, user centred design, web  |  No Comments so far

    My friend Lindsey sent me this link earlier on today. It’s a video exploring a future user experience concept, developed by Adaptive Path for Mozilla Labs.


    Jill looks at the New York Times website

    In the video Jill, the principal user, makes use of a number of futuristic interface devices to:

    • Interact with a friend while browsing
    • Extract and manipulate data sets from within websites
    • Navigate through a vast collection of bookmarks using a 3D interface
    • Migrate her browsing experience seamlessly from desktop to mobile devices

    It’s a bit like MacOS X

    I initially found myself wondering, is the future really going to look so much like Mac OS X? But looking past the visual treatment, there are some strong concepts here. I particularly like the ability to extract and manipulate data from web pages, the near-removal of the browser interface, and the utilisation of the 3D interface to convey the age of bookmarks.

    That said, not everyone agrees with me – I’ve had a few conversations today about these ideas and there isn’t really a consensus among the people I’ve been talking to.


    The Z-axis is used to convey the age of a bookmark

    Is 3D ever really going to enter the mainstream as a means of web navigation? I’ve always been quite sceptical, to be honest. It comes down to incentive – if there’s a serious benefit to be had from learning unfamiliar and complex interfaces, then people will do it. People learnt how to use Myspace, after all!

    So, what would have to happen to make us want to learn new, complicated, 3D web interfaces?

    Well, the web (along with our own slice of it; our bookmarks, our browsing histories, our social networks etc) is on its way to becoming unmanageably large. Past a certain point, there may be a real benefit in migrating to more sophisticated – but more complex – interfaces.

    The standard methods of searching and browsing may still be usable, but woefully inefficient; like running a modern computer with only a command line interface and no GUI. Achievable, but insane.

    The web is growing exponentially – its size in five or ten years’ time could present us with unique problems and challenges. Some of the ideas in this concept video shed some light on how we might solve them. But what are those problems and challenges going to be? I’m probably more interested in them than I am in the solutions.

  6. Pubs, epidemiology and geo-mashups

    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.

  7. Online mind-mapping tools

    Posted July 14, 2008 in software, webapps  |  No Comments so far

    What are mind mapping tools? In short, they aim to visualise the conceptual relationships that make up the structure of thought.

    When used for project planning they allow you to break down the central objective into a set of smaller, inter-related items – these items can then be arranged hierarchically. The end result is an at-a-glance overview of your project which is conceptual in nature, as opposed to the linear and temporal visualisation provided by a Gantt chart.

    A vast array of mind-mapping applications can be found online, some of which are free. However I’m more interested in their web-based counterparts, not only because the potential for sharing, publishing and collaboration is much greater, but also as the user can access their mind maps from any location (at least in theory).

    Over the next few weeks I’m planning to try out the following online mind-mapping tools and post some updates on my experiences. I’ve been interested in mind-mapping for some time but have never embraced it wholeheartedly, so maybe these tools will persuade me to become a fully-fledged convert…