The Blossoming Field of Data Visualization

Now for a brief break from hardcore politics, to something tangentially related. Take a moment this weekend to play around at the website FlowingData. It’s a very nice nexus that points out many great examples of data visualization that are appearing these days. Most of them do not have to do with politics or advocacy, but I expect we soon will start seeing more visualization examples in that space.

I have been tracking data visualization techniques for years now, well before I became involved as director of the New Politics Institute. The field is important, and increasingly so, because of the mushrooming of data and information that our modern society is getting filled with due to the proliferation of computers and all things digital. Fortunately, the same technology that is helping cause the proliferation is also creating new ways for humans to process the information in efficient and powerful ways.

The Flowing Data site is one way into this increasingly fascinating world. (Kudos to Carlos Bakota who just pointed it out to me.) You can just start at the homepage and start clicking on the graphics that run down the middle of the page. They all lead to blog posts that explain and show some visual effort to make better sense of information. Today’s lead post shows a great example of how the Boston Globe figured out a way to chart each of Manny Ramirez's career homers on the path to his hitting 500. I mean they showed exactly where each ball was hit, in each stadium, off which pitcher, etc., etc. Yet they do this is a fun, simple, and very visual way. Check it out.

Another way into the material is through their archives, which break down examples by various categories. Here would be several that I would check out, here, here, and here. They also spotlight one of the great creators in this space, Jonathan Harris, a young innovator who is more like an artist. Early on, I connected with him and have been following him for years. To give you a sense of his work, check out this We Feel Fine website on tracking feelings around the world. It’s very hard to explain in mere words, which is the point of the whole field. Sometimes, you just have to see it to believe it.

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute