Saturday, July 24, 2010

What Do I Want For Better Information Display?

Thinking about how much I like maps and graphically displaying information and that I am trained in part as a UI designer, I wanted to sit down and think about information visualizations that should be invented. We have a tremendous amount of data out there that is being collected by websites, social networks, cell phones, etc, and it is still largely opaque when thought of as a collection. This is a huge untapped resource that needs to get used.

We've definitely got some people beginning to use things in this vein, such as the Twitter moods visualization. A brief search show's other similar projects, such as mapping music relationships on, the affects of cell-phone based social networks on marketing, this project mapping tourist vs local hotspots using Flickr photos, and other such things.

Hrm... But I still feel that none of these things have quite gotten to where they need to go. I've seen plenty of social networking maps, but those generally end up appearing messy and must be lacking something that I'm looking for. They all tend to be quite specific to a given area of research. So, what am I looking for? What is it that I'm trying to imagine? I want some more universal framework in which to support all of my questions.

I suppose I'm still looking for a way to see objective measures of influence in social networks. Either absolutely or with regard to specific topics. I suppose I'd also like to see more economic data overlaid on these social networks, to see where money is flowing and to what effect. I want to see how people's opinions effect each other, see a map of how ideas are flowing, and see what effect this has on people's activities. Or just more overlays of social networks on physical locations. We're hitting the point where we'll have enough computational power that we could run the world in a Sim City like simulation.

A wonderful technology that I'm extremely excited about is Microsoft's Photosynth. This software can take a bunch of 2D photos of an area and then automatically build a 3D model of that area. It's a beautiful technology. And I'm just grasping for something similar with all this social networking data, something that can combine the data that's available on Facebook and and Reddit and Twitter and credit card records and political contributions and the like and combine it into a usable, searchable, visualizable format.

There are a lot of questions I have that should be easier to answer. But then, I'm still trying to actually refine these questions.

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