Flyspy visualization of airline ticket data via Techcrunch

FlyspytechcrunchA visual mashup of airplane tickets.  This is why I am so excited about great visualization.  Huge amounts of data, HUGE AMOUNTS, are easily understandable with the right visual.  Not only is your visual memory unlimited, but millions of data points are easily understandable to a 12 year old with the right visual.  Patterns are apparent, lumpy lines are best according to Tufte, at a glance.

A good example of this was highlighted on TechCrunch today by Nik Cubrilovic in Flyspy Brings The New Web To Airline Ticketing.  First the good news from the post:

Flyspy reverse engineers some of the mystique associated with the airline industry and makes it extremely transparent.


The search result, which returns very quickly, will present me with a graph of flight prices over the next 30 days so that I can quickly look at which days are the cheapest to fly. To book a flight I just click on the point in the graph. Simple.


Overall a very cool service that epitomizes what the new web is about. Flyspy should go public in a few months ““ you will hear more about it here and probably feel the distruption.

Now for the bad news.  You can’t trademark or patent a visual as far as I know.  And this is fundamentally a line graph.  So there must be some other differentiation.  There are definitely a few investment problems with mash ups.  So I love it, but I wouldn’t invest in it without some form of protection.  I definitely wish them the best.

The Dumpster interactive online visualization

The Dumpster, a blatant repost from Doc, yet still must at a minimum be in my collection of back links.  From the site:

Thedumpster The Dumpster is an interactive online visualization that attempts to depict a slice through the romantic lives of American teenagers. … The project’s graphical tools reveal the astonishing similarities, unique differences, and underlying patterns of these failed relationships, providing both peculiarly analytic and sympathetically intimate perspectives onto the diversity of global romantic pain.


From a visualization and ethnography perspective it is worthy of recording.  It would be like if Flash had never experienced Joshua Davis as a leader.  Yet like much of Joshua’s work, there is something missing. It is cool, but what did we LEARN?  Is it in any way predictive?  Interfaces are great, but can we load up our friendly neighborhood neural net and get cranking away on what the opportunties are for the team next week!?!

Bisley Advertisements – Remixing Elements of Icons


"The ads are for Bisley, a company that makes storage units for offices. As you can see, each image (a barcode, a map of the Underground, etc) have all been broken down into their individual parts and neatly stacked together. The text reads, "Perfectly Organized.""

Pictures Lie – Just as Wrong as Lying with Words

Dc_ward_map"DC Mayor Brown’s interactive accomplishments map:
bad Marion Barry isn’t mayor anymore — then we’d get cute little
baggies and crack pipe icons placed on the district map

Via Katya.

Here is my challenge with the map.  As Tufte says, lying with visuals is still lying. It isn’t cute.  It isn’t funny.  It is perjury.  In this case the map has been manipulated to create an illusion of balance and fairness.  The icons are smoothly distributed throughout the district. 

So this 3 Million dollar investment:

HouseThe Department of Housing and Community Development served as funding partner
for Camp Simms, a mixed-use development that will include 110,000 square feet of
retail and a 75 single-family-home community (Asheford Court). The 8.51-acre
Shops at Park Village will incorporate the expansion of an existing strip
center, Giant Food supermarket and casual dining restaurant. Sixteen (16) of the
units will be affordable for families making eighty percent (80) of the Area
Median Income. The Department of Housing and Community Development provided
approximately $3,000,000 to this initiative.

is somehow equal to this new government form???  Oh please.

ShakeThe Department of Human Services developed and released a new, simplified
"Combined Application for Medical, Food Stamp, and Cash Assistance" to make it
easier for District residents to apply for services and to streamline the
eligibility process. The new application is also available in Spanish and the
cover page features messages in Amharic, Chinese and Vietnamese.

So visually, for the sake of politics, a 3 million dollar development is the same as a couple of bureaucrats combining three forms into a new form.  Like the kind you photocopy.  The kind with an icon the same size as a 3 million dollar icon.  I call bullshit. 

Visualization of Social Concepts Requires Software (Open Source?)

Inkscape043diagrams_thumbDigging for low cost tools to allow more people in our company to generate better visualization led me to the following tools:

NVU – A Dreamweaver like open source software application
Inkscape – Vector Graphics Tool, also open source, similar to Illustrator
Gimp – graphic editing similar to a photoshop like app (already a Gimp user….)

And in a somewhat unrelated discovery, check out the Visible Human Server for "slices" of the human body.  Awesome for science class!

Visual Angles and Adjacency in 3D Operating System Environment

3djavaosVia multi-talented artist Jason McElweenie (disclaimer – I work with Jason) – The image at right is a still from a video of a new 3D Java based Operating System.  It includes a cool method of visualizing the applications in 3 dimensions.

One of the big take aways from the Tufte seminars is the importance of adjacency.  By adjacency he simply means having content side by side as opposed to front to back.  Front to back by definition a sequential process (harder on the brain).  So the ideal situation would be a two high by three wide stacks of 30 inch high def monitors with all relevant content visible at all times.  So, for those of us who can’t afford 18k in monitors per user, the ability to angle windows is appealing.

More on adjacency from this American Communication Journal article on Visualization:

Tufte writes, "spatial parallelism takes advantage
        of our notable capacity to compare and reason about multiple images that
        appear simultaneously within our eyespan. We are able to canvass, sort,
        identify, reconnoiter, select, contrast, review ““ ways of seeing
        all quickened and sharpened by the direct spatial adjacency of parallel
        elements" (Tufte 1997:80).

Regarding the 3d operating system above, angling windows while the content is still active is very cool.  And I can see arranging my desktop like / / [X] \ \ \  where X is the active window and the \s and /s are other open applications angled to show up thin but with some adjacent visual content.

At one point in the operating system demo video the presenter flips an application window over entirely and writes on the back in sticky note fasion.  The act of flipping a window to take notes on the back does not make sense because you have gone right back to sequential use. Why?  By definition you are NOT looking at the front at the same time.  It isn’t adjacent, it is sequential, and sequential slows down visualization and therefore slows down human decision making.  And damnit we all want it RIGHT NOW! (whatever "it" is!)

I’d like to be able to “strike“ the edge of a window, like flint, and based on the strike it would create an adjacent sticky note.  That note would function similar to the comments in Excel but perhaps add in the translucence of the windows in the video.  So small strikes would appear on the border of the window and a hover, or moving the mouse close, would pop up the note.  Sharing these would be great as well.

I do recommend reviewing the 3D Java based Operating System video to get your mind going on visualization.  Cool ideas.  Thanks Jason!

On a related subject, this post on slashdot about a govt data sweep mentions the problems of understanding that huge amount of data and the possibility of using holograms to get a handle on it.

Technology for Communities – FullCircle Blog Organization Photo Set

Technology for Communities Flickr Set by Full Circle Online Interaction Blog. The images clearly took a lot of work and thought and would benefit many of our non profit clients in positioning their organizations.

Part of my focus on the process behind organizational acts of "organization" is from recent reading on rational, natural and open systems of organizations.  The concept of organizations-is-not-a-noun resonates and leaves us with "there is only the act of organizing over time".  Thus an open system

And be sure to read the post on Simon Pulman-Jones – Using Photographic Data to Build a Large-Scale Global Comparative Visual Ethnography of Domestic Spaces: Can a limited data set capture the complexities of “sociality"

Visualization of Social Issues – Block by Block and Random Visuals

Cadoracharles_swartzVia this post on we-make-money-not-art, to the left is an awesome map indicating the cost, by block, of incarceration.  The map is a graphic by Eric Cadora and Charles Swartz helps you understand visually the expense of lack of education and incarceration.

The artists clearly thought about visual representation and included source data (Tufte emphasizes source for legitimacy regardless of authenticity).

On the flip side, the actual project web site is close to unusable with all links launching frames without an address bar.  What were they thinking?

If you force the issue with "open in new window" you can dig down into additional graphics on social issues like this one, or this one

F_kurgan_tlyang_sp05_06While the visuals are compelling, I am not sure about how intuitive the communication of issues is for a user who is not motivated to review and read the legend at length.

This design does require the user to work and renders the information secondary to the display, which is not an ideal result.

Keyword Density of Presidential State of the Union Addresses 1996 to 2006

The political graphs below are word counts of interesting words and phrases from Presidential State of the Union speeches from 1996 to 2006.  This is mostly an exercise in political keyword density calculations and fun with graphs.  I manually added similar terms like "Iraq" and "Iraqi" or "terrorist" and "terrorists" (note the "s") in the Excel file.


This first graph compares Iraq vs Terrorist vs Saddam vs Al Qaeda.

The method was to locate a web based version of primarily text (print view in this case) from the state of the union addresses.   The date range was 10 years and includes both the Bush presidency and a portion of Clinton’s presidency.  The range was an arbitrary decision. 

I was able to find the last five years (Bush) state of the union addresses on but prior to that found the remaining speeches at  As a result, there are some differences in the data from other text on the HTML pages.  To really repeat this micro-study you would want to isolate the content without any navigation or reference links.

Sousocialprogramskeywords This graph shows a variety of terms related to social services including; tax (es), Health, economy, budget, social security, medicare, retirement

I do suggest that speech writers and public relations professionals run their content through keyword density generators to verify they are ON MESSAGE.  Yes clearly the content should be written in natural language that focuses on your political objective, but it doesn’t hurt to hit a link to verify how google views your content.

The full Excel file with the graphs and source data is posted below if you want to remix it or double check the content.  Be sure to check all of the tabs with the pasted versions of the SEO keywords.

Download schipul_state_of_the_union_keywords.xls

And here are the links to the state of the union speeches by date.

23-Jan-96 SoU, 4-Feb-97 SoU, 27-Jan-98 SoU, 19-Jan-99 SoU, 27-Jan-00 SoU, 27-Feb-01 SoU, 29-Jan-02 SoU, 28-Jan-03 SoU, 20-Jan-04 SoU, 2-Feb-05 SoU, 31-Jan-06 SoU

SouparsingtoolAnd speaking of visualization, while researching this post I came across the State of the Union Parsing tool which has some nice visualization as well.  Definitely worth a visit if you are into the whole politics crossed with search engine optimization and messaging thing.

Edward Tufte Visualization Seminar in Houston January 2006

Edwardtuftehoustonjan200602Edward Tufte, ""the man" when it comes to visualization" as one client referred to him, was in Houston the last two days for visualization seminars.  Attending with four others, it was a great presentation and included three of his books and the infamous Minard poster showing Napleon’s March.

In particular EdwardtuftesparklineeconomicI enjoyed Mr. Tufte’s presentation and verbal description of Sparklines – small inline graphs of meaningful and relevant data associated with the word.

Like many great public speakers, almost everything he said was "obvious".  Multivariate graphs are difficult to display in "flatland" and there are known ways to attack the problem.  His books are a constant reference during the presentation because of the increased resolution. 

Example – Tufte on Presentations:

"They did not come to see your amateur design efforts.  They came to see your professional content"

On sparklines:

"No more tinker toy graphics.  We finally have graphics worthy of the resolution of the human mind eye resolution; sparklines."

Other quotables:

"The most embarrassing words in web design are "skip intro""

"Graphical design recapitulates hierarchy"

"Pitching out corrupts within" (on the evil of convincing PPTs for everything external)

Edwardtuftesparklines_1The last image is from the Tufte site where he has the chapter on sparklines in draft form in its entirety available.  Worthy of a visit.

He finished the presentation going over presentation rights and wrongs and the essay "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint".  The short version is that PPT encourages crappy writing.  Certainly there is more to it than that, but I suspect he would agree with that summary. 

So now, as I prepare my deck for tomorrow’s presentation, I am somehow a bit more concerned than I usually am before public speaking!


Offshore Technology Conference Event Marketing Seminar

Clare Sullivan CSEP

Sullivan Group

Thu 2-Feb-06 2:00 PM to Thu 2-Feb-06 5:00 PM