Web Visualization: Beyond RSS Lava Lamps

Location: Mission Hills Level: Intermediate

The explosion of syndicated data and digital exhaust has produced an explosion of eye-popping visualizations, from tree maps to spider charts and dynamic swarming Flash applications that transform links, diggs, tags, and purchasing patterns into candy-colored fantasias.

The problem with these visualizations is that they’re really really sexy, but not too useful for an individual. Everyone goes, “wow, cool” and the data source gets a branding bump. But no-one uses these things on a daily basis, for some good reasons: they tend to focus on what’s popular vs. weaker but more interesting signals. They’re great at “what’s happening this second” and lousy at long term trends. And most importantly, they’re not situated in the user’s specific context, only in the fast-flowing stream of the data itself. It’s difficult to combine different data sources into one visualization. Lastly, and ironically based on the data itself, these networked lava lamps are not particularly social and are difficult to version or share, or for groups to explore and refine.

This presentation gives a 90-second blipvert overview of the shiny vizporn and kinetic data sculptures to date, explains why they’re not useful and what it takes, technologically and user-experience-wise, to make synthesis and visualization of Web 2.0 data useful on a daily basis, whether you’re tracking industries, running a political campaign, or triangulating gossip.

Presentation will include genuinely useful-for-the-individual visualization of real data—including daredevil incorporation of real-time feeds from the audience, live wiki-like collaboration between the speaker and the audience on dynamic visualizations—along with a few blue sky and lazyweb projections and provocations.

Demo will show how different kinds of data can be combined on the fly, in a user-driven context, and shared with small groups or posted to a web page. The technical side, from a back-end data and front-end perspective, will be covered, but at a level that non-techies can understand.

Photo of J. C. Herz

J. C. Herz

Ion Channel

J.C. Herz (jnhq@yahoo.com) is a technologist with a background in biological systems and computer game design. Her specialty is massively multiplayer systems that leverage social network effects, whether on the web, mobile devices, or more exotic high-end or grubby low-end hardware. J.C. is a founding member of the IEEE Task Force on Game Technologies, and has done information analysis and visualization research for DARPA. She is the author of two books, Surfing on the Internet and Joystick Nation, and was a technology columnist for the New York Times. She has spoken at Game Developers’ Conference, SIGGRAPH, and TED.


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