Visualizing data

Earlier this week the NY Times ran a piece about the experimental website Many-Eyes.com. At first glance the site is every statistician’s nightmare — the marriage of complex visual interpretation and social networking. Being a believer in the wisdom of the crowd, I don’t expect this harm public discourse in the least. As this election cycle proves, there’s really nowhere to go but up in public debate of complex issues.

As an editor and motion graphics artist, data visualization is hard to get right and impossible to do inexpensively, requiring both sides of the brain to fire on all cylinders. If it was possible to post a data set and tap the collective knowledge of the audience to parse it and visualize it meaningfully, we might be on to something.

At it’s most basic level, the tool streamlines the process of data visualization. You can take a look at this view of Olympic medals won by each country from 1896-2006.

It’s also useful as a tool to verify editorial conclusions. For example, one data set on the site created a word tree for all Obama’s references to McCain in his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention. Add some phoneme capabilities, and data visualization could be visually interesting — in real-time. Click image to see full size.

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