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raphs are boring.Whether it's line, bar or even pie, Microsoft Excel'schart functions have become a crutch we all rely on tohelp tell a story. And it makes sense: we are much betterat comprehending patterns via pictures than we are withthe numbers themselves.It's that bias towards pictures that has made visualisingdata one of the foundations of culture since the emergenceof writing. Words are simply visual representations ofinformation – pictures of sounds.Even paragraphs are a visual device, delineatingseparatesections of long blocks of texts to make themeasier to digest. See?For a while it seemed like Excel had taken graphs intoa dead end. Their ubiquity and uniformity in badpresentations rendered them wallpaper, robbing them oftheir communicative power.But this article isn't about bad presentations at all.Rather it's about the children of the charts and graphsthat litter them. It's about the more sophisticated datavisualisations that have come of age recently. Whetherit's as simple as a tag cloud or as complex as a visualthesaurus, these tools of understanding are so beautifuland meaningful that they are quickly becoming the art ofa generation drowning in data.The current boom owes much to Moore's Law and theever-increasing power of computers. Today we'recreating and collating information in mind-bogglingquantities. The problem is that data, like many things, isworthless without the tools to interpret it. As
wrote on the blog
:'In a data-drivenworld, infographics are the new art.'Like art, these representations don't tell you what tothink, rather they present the data in visual form andleave it open to interpretations: they require the involvementof the viewer.As is usually the case, this is only the beginning. Justabout any bit of digital data, from photos to emails,comes along with a flood of metadata – data thatdescribes the data – that sits behind the scenes,interpreted by the computers it passes through.Everything you do online, and increasingly offlinethanks to your mobile, leaves a stream of data in its wake just waiting to be interpreted.
is a Brooklyn-based artist andstoryteller who designs systems to explore and explainthe human world. A leader in the field of datavisualisation, Harris suggests his work is a way toharness the very human need to express ourselves thatis made manifest on the web, in blogs, in photos and onfilm. Brands have become used to communicating bycreating content. Then, as the tools of creation began tobe democratised, the roar of user-generated contentwas heard throughout the industry. At the time, thismeant getting users to create content for brands,tempting would-be directors into making ads withenticements of money, exposure and prestige. Butmaking films is a specific desire whereas the need toexpress ourselves is universal, which is leading topractically limitless streams of content crying out forattention.Perhaps then, rather than creating more content toadd to the maelstrom, there is a role in helping usunderstand and use what's already out there. And oncesocial metadata is applied to the real world in largequantities, sorting out the relevant will require trustededitors.Brands have already begun to experiment with the roleof aggregator.
Nikon Stunning Gallery
aggregatescontent from Flickr – allowing users who are alreadycreating content to incorporate their work simplythrough the addition of a relevant tag. Meanwhile,
(see below) aggregates geotaggedimagery and extracts the metadatato create weighted tagmaps of the real world.Visualisations unlock the patterns in the data, extractthe signals from the noise, and let us see things in newways.In a world increasingly saturated with data, we will allneed to develop new ways of seeing.
CHARLES MINARD /