Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘data visualization’

11 MAY, 2010

Current: A News Project | ITP Spring Show Highlights


What Sandra Bullock has to do with Tennessee traffic law, British election results and the future of news sensemaking.

Last weekend, we stopped by the annual ITP Spring Show, showcasing the best of interactive sight, sound and technology by students at NYU’s Interactive Technology Program. While the festival was brimming with fascinating installations and projects, we were particularly taken with Current: A News Project. Created by Zoe Fraade-Blanar, the project uses data visualization — a chronic favorite around here — to explore the life cycle of internet memes in reaction to news media in real time.

Current is essentially a snapshot of “hivemind,” offering a collective portrait of what America’s entire internet user base has been concerning itself with in the past 24 hours via their collective search history. Keywords are distilled into memes, which Fraade-Blanar treats as “living ‘thought organisms’ that act as though they have agency, control, and a selfish motivation.”

An active meme with medium coverage

A meme with two submemes

The project aims to expose something we too believe is one of the information economy’s greatest follies — “Digg mentality,” or the tendency for certain types of news to be regurgitated and pushed to the top by groupthink, while more niche yet important and fascinating content sinks to the bottom of our collective awareness — and, in the process, reclaim news readership lost to sensationalism.

News relies on soft stories like horoscopes, celebrity gossip and restaurant reviews to subsidize the important but less sensational stories that keep democracy running. At base, any solution to News’ present problems must address the balance between the hard news we need and the soft news that drives advertising dollars. By visually anthropomorphizing the capricious nature of public attention Current can spotlight these missed opportunities in news coverage.

A saturated meme

Fraade-Blanar, who worked at the New York Times Analytics Group last summer exploring ways to analyze incoming traffic behaviors, was inspired by the disconnect she noticed between the kinds of stories that caused spikes of traffic and their cultural footprint, with superficial stories often rising above reporting on important political events.

An unsuccessful news item published outside the Memescape

A long-lived meme in the Memescape

At base, any solution to News’ problems must offer a path to financial success in addition to advice on maintaining journalistic integrity. Current seeks to fulfill this purpose by supplying the ability to differentiate which news items are most likely to draw web traffic to a news source.

Current comes as a free desktop app for both Mac and PC (though make sure the Read Me on the Mac install — it’s not as seamless as we like our apps), allowing users to track and examine custom memes.

A highly carnivorous meme

The project reminds us of a more visual, minimalist version of Zoetrope, another brilliant news visualization concept you may remember from a couple of years ago, and illustrates the increasing necessity for a sensemaking platform for news data and meme propagation.

We’ve got a weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays, offers the week’s articles, and features five more tasty bites of web-wide interestingness. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

10 MAY, 2010

Data Flow, The Sequel


What seven years of eye candy have to do with the future of design in the age of data.

We love data visualization in all its forms. A few months ago, we reviewed The Visual Miscellaneum, a wonderful anthology of the most potent eye candy in one domain of data viz, infographics. Today, we’re taking a look at Data Flow 2: Visualizing Information in Graphic Design — the brilliant sequel to our favorite book on the most compelling work in all of data visualization as a broad and cross-disciplinary creative medium, from static infographics to dynamic interactive visualizations to physical data sculptures and beyond.

The book is equal parts visual indulgence and conceptual intelligence, with artwork from and interviews of the leading creators in this field of increasing cultural relevance, as information continues to proliferate and overwhelm.

Included in this tome are numerous projects we’ve featured here over the past couple of years, including Toby Ng’s The World of 100, Coriette Schoenaerts’ clothing maps of Europe, and various visualization of information inspired by the London tube map.

With contributions for Brain Pickings favorites like Manuel Lima and Aaron Koblin, the book offers a unique look at this thriving intersection of design and technology.

[This book] is extremely well done — a beautiful overview of some of the most important infographics of the last several years.” ~ Aaron Koblin

Spanning the entire spectrum of practical advice, technical insight and aesthetic inspiration, Data Flow 2 is positively the most exciting book in creative visualization this year.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

23 APRIL, 2010

The Beauty of Maps: Seeing Art in Cartography


What 13th-century astronomy has to do with the shape of the internet and the British Library.

We love maps. And we love data visualization, of which maps are among the earliest and most ubiquitous examples. As location continues to tickle the tips of trend analysts’ tongues and location-based applications take over the mobile landscape, it’s interesting — if not necessary — to understand the historical context of our relationship with location and geography.

That’s exactly what a new BBC series titled The Beauty of Maps: Seeing Art in Cartography explores.

The site features five of the world’s most beautiful historical maps, five of the most ambitious and fascinating digital ones available today, and video highlights that explore the stories and cultural contexts behind these maps. (While the video content may be restricted to people in the UK, we recently uncovered a nifty way to access blocked content on the web — and it includes a step-by-step guide to cracking the BBC iPlayer specifically.)

From Psalter’s cartography circa 1260 to a map of today’s global data exchange to a colorful NASA map of the dark side of the moon, the site is a treasure trove of cartographic fascination.

The effort is part The Map as Art, part Strange Maps, part essential education for the age of location.

To further indulge your cartographic cravings, we recommend these excellent resources for historical cartography and vintage maps:

Know a great source of cartographic inspiration? Do share below.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

20 APRIL, 2010

Follow The Money: Visualizing the Structure of Large-Scale Communities


Visual economics, or what virtual currencies have to do with real neighbors.

Money makes the world go ’round. Or so the saying goes. Whether or not that’s true, money does go around the world, wrapping it in an invisible web of socioeconomic and geopolitical patterns.

Northwestern University grad students Daniel Grady and Christian Thiemann are on a mission to visualize these patterns. Their project Follow the Money investigates the structure of large-scale communities in the US through the prism of how money travels. Using data from the popular bill-tracking website Where’s George?, the team identified geographically compact communities based on how much currency is changing hands within them as opposed to between them.

This may sound like dry statistical uninterestingness, but the video visualization of the results is rather eye-opening, revealing how money — not state borders, not political maps, not ethnic clusters — is the real cartographer drawing our cultural geography.

When we made the video, we wanted to produce something that anybody could watch and understand what was happening, but at the same time we didn’t want to have to dumb down any of the ideas.” ~ Daniel Grady

The project was a winner at the 2009 Visualization Challenge sponsored by the National Science Foundation and AAAS and.

But as cash nears extinction in the age of plastic and electronic transations, we’d be curious to see a visualization of payment networks in all the forms and formats today’s money lives in — physical, electronic, and even virtual currencies like Facebook’s AceBucks, World of Warcraft’s gold, or Second Life’s Linden dollars.

via Visual Complexity

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.

You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.