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Showing posts from January, 2009

A National Data Agency?

Over at Eager Eyes, Robert Kosara has a suggestion for the Obama Administration. He points out that making the government's raw data available to the public could enhance governmental transparency* and lead to some new ways of looking at the country's problems. The challenge is not only data availability. A lot of data is, in fact, available. The US is the most transparent nation in the world – to an extent that can be frightening to an outsider (think pay data for state employees, property tax data, etc.).

The challenge is that a lot of data is published in a format that is human-readable, not machine-readable. This might sound like a good thing, but it's not. Machine-readable data can be processed and transformed into any number of human-readable forms, that direction is trivial. Making human-readable data accessible to a machine is much more difficult, error-prone, and expensive.

What we need is a National Data Agency (NDA). This agency would be tasked with collecting dat…

Visual thinking school

Dave Gray's thriving firm, Xplane, introduces businesses to "visual thinking":Visual thinking is a way to organize your thoughts and improve your ability to think and communicate. It's a way to expand your range and capacity by going beyond the linear world of the written word, list and spreadsheet, and entering the non-linear world of complex spacial relationships, networks, maps and diagrams.In other words, it's infoviz (which is usually based on hard data) plus sketching, mind-mapping, flow charts, symbols and more.

Gray has uploaded nine learning modules on the topic at his Visual Thinking School; though breezy and charming, they're less useful as how-to lessons than as a further reminder of how instantly and powerfully images can convey information. (For examples, see especially the Visual Mapping module.)

Great Moments in Infoviz: I.O.U.S.A.

Last week I finally caught Patrick Creadon's documentary I.O.U.S.A., in which former comptroller general David Walker and former Commerce Secretary Pete Peterson explain why the national debt is 1) so huge, 2) even more enormous than most people realize, 3) not going away anytime soon and 4) actually a threat to the continued viability of the US as a trading partner/solvent nation.

Sobering message notwithstanding, I found the film gripping—in large part because of Brian Oakes's remarkably clear and cogent data presentation throughout. The dimensions and meaning of the national debt are so amorphous to most people that the film would never have succeeded without infoviz graphics. And Oakes is a master of the form. Check it out:

From a recent Q&A with Oakes at Design Observer:What other roles does design play in the dissemination of the film's message?

When you are dealing with many graphic sequences that are popping up throughout the film, it is very important to connect …

Infoviz: a basic example

When I try to describe the field of information visualization to folks who haven't heard of it, I end up gesturing a lot, or resorting to vague buzzwords, or talking about bar graphs and pie charts and leaving my companion wondering what's so all-fired cool or revolutionary about that stuff.

But now I'm starting to think of it as akin to translation.

Here's why. You can take this:
There are key differences between Great Britain, the United Kingdom, and England—names often used interchangeably.

Great Britain
Great Britain is an island that consists of three somewhat autonomous regions that include England, Scotland, and Wales. It is located east of Ireland and northwest of France in the Atlantic Ocean.

The United Kingdom
The United Kingdom is a country that includes England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Its official name is “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.” England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland are often mistaken as names of countries, …