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Thursday, 5th August 2010

Interesting and Cool! Video Lecture and Demo: Information Visualization: Flowing Media's Martin Wattenberg at MIT

The visualization of information is becoming a very popular topic to learn about, discuss, use, and share in the library world and info business.

At the same time, the visualizations these tools provide are being used by info pros (and those we work with). Results from a variety of tools coupled with the creativity/imaginations and knowledge of people who often possess artistic, database, and info skills are now being found via a growing number of blogs as well as in "mainstream" media sites. Of course, these visualizations are also being shared with our users.

Recently made available on MIT World is "Numbers, Words and Colors," a presentation/lecture by Martin Wattenberg on May 21, 2010 during the Humanities + Digital Visual Interpretations Conference. The video runs 56 minutes. Mr. Wattenberg is the Co-Founder of Flowing Media.

From the "About the Lecture" Page:

Tools developed by Martin Wattenberg and his associate Fernanda Viégas, have changed the way people look at and use visualizations, by empowering and equipping users with the methodology needed to ask different questions. Wattenberg, whose background is in math and computer science, asks how the humanities have influenced the evolution of data visualization and then answers with several examples from his own work.

Resources Discussed and Demonstrated Include...

Web Seer compares Google's "auto-suggest" feature in one-to-one, weighted comparisons such as "why doesn't he…" and "why doesn't she…" The resultant text image uses the size of arrows and words to reflect frequency, demonstrating how text can impart meaning.

Many Eyes, a social media tool and Web site that has "democratized" powerful visualization systems by putting them in the hands of general audiences.


Word Tree, a visualization technique that lets users pick a word or phrase from a data set, shows the different contexts in which it appears via a tree-like branching structure.


Chimera takes care of the "boilerplate problem" by examining large collections of text, such as contracts, and pointing out identical phrases.


Fleshmap, "an inquiry into human desire." The relationship between the body and its visual and verbal representation are explored in a series of artistic studies employing song lyrics and body imagery. Flickr Flow, Wattenberg explains, is an experiment whose materials are color and time. Software calculated the relative proportions of different colors seen in photos of Boston taken during each month of the year and plotted those colors on a wheel creating a "river of meaning."

The complete video, intro, and bio are accessible here.

From Martin Wattenberg's Bio:

Martin Wattenberg is a computer scientist and artist. From 2005 to 2010, he founded and managed IBM's Visual Communication Lab, exploring new forms of visualization and how they can enable better collaboration. A key project, Many Eyes, is an experiment in open, public data visualization and analysis. Prior to joining IBM, Wattenberg was the Director of Research and Development at SmartMoney.com, a joint venture of Dow Jones and Hearst. His work at SmartMoney included the groundbreaking Map of the Market.


Wattenberg earned a B.S. at Brown University (1991), M.S. at Stanford (1992) and a Ph.D. at the University of California Berkeley (1996).

Martin Wattenberg's Homepage & Research Page

Note: One of the projects listed on the research page, Name Voyager and Name Mapper allows you to interact with the database and create visualizations.

The Name Voyager visualizes a century of baby name trends. It was created to celebrate the launch of my wife's book, The Baby Name Wizard. The Name Mapper, launched in 2008, displays geographic name trends.

Other Presentations (We Will Feature Them in Future Weeks) Available Include:

+ "How to Read 1,000,000 Manga Pages: Visualizing Patterns in Games, Comics, Art, Cinema, Animation, TV, and Print Media" by Lev Manovich

+ "Visual Overviews for Cultural Heritage: Interactive Exploration for Scholars in the Humanities, Arts, and Beyond," by Ben Shneiderman

+ Humanistic Approaches to the Graphical Expression of Interpretation by Johanna Drucker

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