VisWeek updates by Jérôme Cukier: Day 1
The IEEE VisWeek Conference 2011 is taking place in Providence, RI this week (23rd to 28th). VisWeek 2011 is the premier forum for visualization advances for academia, government, and industry, bringing together researchers and practitioners with a shared interest in tools, techniques, technology and theory.
The week is organized around three separate conferences IEEE Visualization 2011, the venue for all visualization research for data that has an intrinsic spatial component, IEEE Information Visualization 2011 focused on research relating to visual mappings of non-spatial data and interaction techniques and IEEE Visual Analytics Science and Technology 2011 which concerns the reasoning processes involved in visual analysis and the application of visual environments to generate useful insight about real-world problems.
I’m disappointed to not be able to attend the event this week but am delighted that Jérôme Cukier has very kindly agreed to provide updates of his discoveries, reactions and experiences. I’m particularly pleased to provide a platform for Jérôme’s updates because I consider him to be one of the most astute and thoughtful observers within the visualisation field.
Day One – Sunday 23rd October
Hello everyone! On behalf of Andy, I’ll try my best to cover VisWeek. It’s a tall order, because every day of the visweek several sessions happen in parallel, so it’s technically impossible to see all of what’s going on here. And the first two days are the worst in that respect, because while the other days there are up to 3 tracks, today and tomorrow there are no fewer than 5!
Eventually, I chose to attend the Telling Stories with Data workshop. Or rather, the workshop chose me as I was invited to talk there, which solved my dilemma.
It’s the second year that this workshop is ran, and I really liked it last year and set my expectations on “very high”. We started with Steven Drucker from Microsoft who presented the rich interactive narratives (www.digitalnarratives.net). The rich interactive narratives is a platform, not dedicated to data visualization, that aims to help authors to develop and structure interactive stories. Not too long ago the frontier between data exploration and data presentation was more or less unknown territory. Since then, we have seen many examples of data-augmented slides, but while what constitutes an interactive story is now better known, creating such stories can be difficult for authors and require programming.
The next speaker, Wesley Willet discussed the importance of sharing and integrating user comments and interaction within the visualization process. Sharing visualizations should no longer be thought as a byproduct of the experience, but rather as a valuable part of the experience. Wesley proposes several ways to improve the state of things: to make visualization increasingly linkable and sharable, for instance by being able to link to specific states of a visualization rather than to the home page of a project; to better recover discussions about visualizations, by the clever use of twitter hashtags for instance, and finally by better analysing the discussions. Data derived from how users manipulate a visualization can in turn be visualized, for instance.
I happened to be the 3rd speaker of the workshop. My talk was on the merits of interactive models in rhetoric. Suppose you want to pass a message across. Sure thing, you could do an awesome static chart. One limitation of that approach is that if you are discussing a sensitive subject, you will never be able to convince those who are strongly prejudiced against your opinions this way. Instead, it could be more interesting to present your users with a sandbox – a toy of sorts – and an assignment. Here is a problem, solve it within the tool I gave you, without any further intructions or constraints. If the tool is designed to subtly orient the conclusions of the user, it can be a much more effective approach. The fourth speaker, Sunah Suh, criticized how some visualizations are presented as intuitive, while in fact they systematically require from the user a certain degree of competence that cannot be ignored. How to read visualizations has to be learned, like the use of any new media; on top of that, being able to decipher certain cultural representations and a basic understanding of statistics are also required skills.
The 5th speaker of the workshop presented pandemic 1.0, and I’m not sure of the right word to describe what it is. It’s a film, a book, several games, toys, social media, mobile apps, physical interactions all brought together. That, and a gratuitous dose of data visualization. All of those mediums are used to immerse users in a complex story with which they interact through a variety of means. For instance, finding hidden objects in the physical world make the story unfold in a certain way.
The next speaker was Brad Stenger from the New York Times on how they use APIs to communicate data and how these APIs are used in terms by the great number of writers and developers that depend on either the data or the news produced by the NYT.
And the workshop was concluded by the brilliant presentation of Jo Guldi, an historian whose work revolves around the representation of time and representation of space. She told us about several revolutions that completely changed how people approached maps. One of such events was the rebirth of the British road system, which went from a state of complete disarray in the 16th century to become a vital infrastructure in the 18th century. When Britain started to have a usable road network, mapmakers and other visualizers of the time did an amazing job of creating incredible spatial representations, which are impressive even by today’s standards. It was only decades later that the government of the time officially published the equivalent data. The incredible effort of compiling all of these maps was achieved through the creativity of the practitioners, even though they didn’t have “clean” data to rely on.
That concludes it for today’s sessions! Tomorrow, I’m thinking of the session on interactive visual text analytics, but maybe my dilemma about which track to attend would be best solved by following the one on working with uncertainty! We’ll see that tomorrow.