What New York City homicide rates have to do with Beijing circa 1917 and Twitter.
We’re the first to admit our recent data viz obsession has gotten out of hand. So, before we bow to data visualization as the be-all-end-all that will save the world and do your laundry in the process, we’re taking a step back with a look at its imperfections.
Enter New York Times graphics editor Matthew Bloch‘s series Accidents — a collection of data visualization goofs and bloopers that happened while he was working on maps and other graphics.
So what if we happen to find them charming.
They make absolutely no sense, represent nothing whatsoever, and have no bearing on any statistical relationship. But they are accidental art at its most viscerally supreme.
Some of the images were eventually debugged to produce the intended data visualizations for the actual The New York Times. (Matthew’s real work is admittedly fantastic — from the most tweeted words during the Super Bowl, to a timeline of space exploration.)
But we love the idea that data can take on a life of its own, deviating from its intended purpose to produce accidental abstractions — perhaps a new breed of art that we can call metamodernism?
158 years of the cultural dialog, replayed and rewritten in visual language.
Newspapers have long been a paradise of visual information — from the early 20th century isotype language pioneered by Otto Neurath, to the elaborate vintage infographics we so love. So imagine our excitement when The New York Times announced Times Open last week, an open API initiative encouraging the development of applications around The Times‘ enormous vault of data.
If you swim in the shallow end of the geek pool, fear not: Here’s the Cliff’s Notes on API — it stands for application programing interface and is pretty much what shapes the behavior of one application as it interacts with others. For example, a WordPress plugin that displays your latest tweets on your blog uses the Twitter API to work the magic.
But what makes the NYT development particularly important is that the API opens up data from the paper’s entire 158-year archive — from the Civil War to the moon landing to the latest Radiohead album reviews — allowing developers and artists alike to do just about anything with it.
And they already are.
Vancouver-based generative software artist Jer Thorp has done a series of visualizations exploring the social conversation around certain terms as reflected in The Times over the last 27 years.
From the gossip on sex and scandal, to a face-off between the most iconic superheroes, to the increasing anxiety about global warming, the series is a visual documentary of our collective concern over issues big and small, the kind of mundane chatter and momentous movements that define a culture.
San Diego artist and developer Tim Schwartz is digging even deeper with visualizations of history that use The New York Times’ entire 158-year corpus of data. His interface plots terms over time, exploring how the cultural dialog has changed as our society evolves. It’s amazing to think some of our cultural givens were virtually nonexistent less than a century ago — like, for example, homosexuality, practically unspoken about publicly until the 70′s.
But perhaps most fascinating is how this changes and almost reverses the relationship between newspapers and data visualization — traditionally, infographics in publishing are visual representations of extraneous information that complements the newspaper’s depiction of the outside world, its message. This — the visualization of meta-data about the newspaper itself — is pretty much the opposite, an introspective analysis of the medium as it shapes the message.
If you find yourself intrigued by and drawn to this world of data visualization, do check out this excellent introduction to it, a wonderful find by our friends at BBH Labs.
Making sense of the world one dataset at a time, or what Mahnattan men and the poverty line have in common.
It’s no secret we’re huge (HUGE) data visualization junkies here. So we’re all over UUorld, a fantastic new immersive mapping environment that helps you makes sense of the data through highly intuitive visual analysis.
UUorld, pronounced [world], uses four-dimensional mapping — an approach that exposes the spatial and temporal context implicit to virtually all data, revealing insight far deeper and more compelling than any brain-numbing array of numbers splattered on an Excel spreadsheet could. (Which doesn’t surprise us, given the overwhelming evidence for the visual-spatial sketch pad’s role in cognition, comprehension and memory.)
While UUorld is capable of analyzing international trends and patterns, it also allows you to zoom in on sub-national elements like states, counties and even cities. The software comes with an enormous portal of free data, or you can import your own to visualize. The maps you build are highly customizable, so you can flex your creative muscle and art-direct your data visualizations to aesthetic perfection.
Visualizations and maps are downloadable in a variety of formats, including KML — which means you can export your data creations to Google Earth, plotting your data in its planetary context. And because Google Earth has an open API, we can only begin to imagine the fascinating potential for crowd-sourcing data visualization from UUorld users, eventually building an immense global library of trends and patterns that help us better understand our world and each other.
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