Sparklines Hit All Tendenci Sites – Massive Amounts of Data in a Little-Itty-Bitty Space

Sparklines, like this one Sparkline

, were created by Edward Tufte.  Sparklines have gone live on all Tendenci association web sites. The image below is a crop from an articles management report, but the actual sparkline is visible to all visitors to any site.  The idea is to accept the fact that the visitor is intelligent and would also like to see the performance of an article among other readers.


The above is an screen shot image, but you can read the articles here, here and here respectively.

One trend visible on other sites with much content locked down for members only is a huge reduction in views of restricted content. This is intuitively obvious.The sparklines help make the case by hitting you over the head with obvious visualization of what the users are doing.

People do not like to be hassled.  They don’t want to go to your site, login and search when they can go to google and search across multiple sites faster.  The result is locking down your content causes it to go unseen for the most part.  Don’t blame the sparklines – they are just telling you the facts.

Visualization – One Artist on the Importance of Color

A good friend sent me a few shots of Cheryl Tamborello’s work.  I liked this quote from Cheryl’s resume:

Tamborello_leadingmetolibertyxl"Working with layers, allows me to build up subtleties of color that psychologically impact the viewer.  Through the use of color, I hope to jostle the viewer’s memory of a particular place, reminding them of a moment they may have had." – Cheryl Tamborello, Houston Artist (emphasis added by me)

Sort of an attempt at abstract random mnemonics (memory aiding devices) for the viewer.  Performance art in static form through visuals.  The same thing that makes visiting the Rothko Chapel an obligation if you are in the Houston area (pictures never do Rothko justice as I am sure is the case with Tamborello as well).

While the three main learning styles are visual, auditory and kinaesthetic it has been my experience that visual is dominant in almost every individual I have worked with.  This might be self selection based on industry but I doubt it.  You can test learning styles and determine that someone is an auditory learner, but when asked "what car did you drive in high school?" they will picture it first before reliving the engine sound or some other related sound in their mind.

Thanks Rachel!

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!?!

Blogs are your Inbred Cousins – NY Mag Linkology Visual

Blog060213_linkology_560The image on the left is a "Linkology" map from the New York Magazine article called Linkology by Stuart Luman.  High res PDF version of the visualization of top blog relationships chart.

The point of the linkology article (although it is really more a list with a paragrah intro) appears to be that breaking into the A-List, to be one of the top read blogs, is tough.  Perhaps even tougher than breaking your news into traditional media.  A public relations professional pitches stories in old world media to writers and editors.  News media are looking for something NEW and actually have a NEED for the PR Professional. 

On the flip side, blogging is basically a conversation and we tend to go back to the same watering hole on a regular basis for our conversations.

But back to the graphic.  I don’t think it is fair that the image shows only links between those blogs.  Why not show it more like a network diagram?  In fact, based on the visual it looks like a the good old boy’s club, yet I know that boing boing links out to other random (wonderful?) sites almost hourly.

Hopefully the challenge for bloggers is like the challenge for PR professionals; be interesting and be honest and hopefully the story will develop legs.  If that doesn’t work host a huge party and just throw money at the problem.

And oh ya, I found the linkology map through this Doc Searls blog post.  And he is one of top 100.  I am not.  So I am telling nobody about the popularity of others to perpetuate the blog club.  Go figure. <g>

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.

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.

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


Geometry and the Munduruk̼ РAnthropology and Geometric Understanding

A very timely post in Slashdot on geometry and visualization today.  It relates to an anthropology study on the human interpretation of visual information through geometry.  It is timely because at the end of January Edward Tufte is presenting in Houston this month and I hope to attend! 

More on the article on geometry and the Mundurukú people.

Munduruku_geometryWe’re hard-wired for geometry (By Daniel B. Kane)
Tests with Amazon villagers hint at innate geometrical sense

WASHINGTON – Even if you never learned the difference between a triangle, a rectangle and a trapezoid, and you never used a ruler, a compass or a map, you would still do well on some basic geometry tests, according to a new study.

Using a series of nonverbal tests, scientists claim to have uncovered core knowledge of geometry in villagers from a remote region of the Amazon who have little schooling or experience with maps and speak a language without the mathematical language of geometry.


the authors of the new study conclude that they have uncovered evidence for a basic understanding of geometry among people without much formal education. Future research may clarify if humans are born with these intuitions or if we acquire them early in life.

We spend a great deal of energy and time with Tendenci reporting trying to create visualization of Munduruku_rightangle the actions taking place on the site to communicate back to the organizations.  Beyond basic network diagrams which are still best assembled by hand, it is a frustrating process.  Not to create the chart, but to create a chart that is easily comprehended. And it is far more complex than visualization of explicit social network connections

I like the visualization discussion at the bottom of this post regarding implicit networks as opposed to explicit networks.  That is a post for another day.

Alberto Cuadra Social Network Diagram of Jack Abramoff and Tom Delay

This post is *not* an opinion piece on politics.  The world has plenty of those on current events.

JackabramhoffsocialnetworkdiagramRather I wanted to highlight a social network diagram in the Houston Chronicle today attributed to Alberto Cuadra.  The diagram (low res photo at left) diagrams "The Abramoff connection" and uses a combination of visual elements.

The full version of the Abramoff-Delay Social Network Diagram in PDF format is on the Chronicle Site.

For main characters like Mr. Abramoff he gets a large photo in the sun. Clearly the Jack Abramoff image is the dominant visual element.  The next largest element up and to the right from Jack is Tom Delay.  But definitely a smaller picture than Jack the center of the diagram. 

All other players are separated by dotted lines and every element has a gear, like machinery, background on it.  There is no attempt to indicate interaction with the gears, I guess just to indicate they are part of the political machinery.

Individuals where he did not have a photo, or chose not to use one perhaps to reduce their apparent significance are indicated by a standing robot-looking man.  Interestingly, *groups* of individuals are also represented by this same graphic such as "other congress members".  My interpretation of this is simply that their role as a group was on par with the role of that other individual as an individual.

The money, which is what they teach you to follow in most crime novels, is apparently mostly from Indian tribes running casinos.  Those tribes, despite their dominant role, are indicated in the diagram by three buildings of varying sizes similar to a SIMS building icon. The same building icon, of the same size unlike the varying photo sizes, is used to reference other lobbying companies and the strategy group including public relations firms Grassroots Interactive and Capital Campaign Strategies.

The dotted lines connecting the elements are confusing, but that is a known challenge with social network diagrams and I think the author does a good job except for the flamboyant boat connection.  I’ll chalk that last one up to social commentary.  By the artist of course.

Alberto – all I have to say is "more cowbell".  Job well done.

Social Software and Global Stuff Visualization

In the CS Monitor there is a great article on an artist that uses globes among other things to illustrate social concepts.

IngogunthertvownershipArtist gives data a global dimension

Frustrated by what he sees as the news media’s sensationalist perspectives and art’s sometimes idealistic and impractical approach to effecting social change, Mr. Günther was prompted to devise an innovative medium to remedy his disenchantment.

The result is "World Processor," a series of custom-made acrylic globes with individually manipulated surfaces that convey a diverse range of information and data in a colorful way. The project combines elements of journalism and art to provide a thought-provoking perspective on global issues ranging from nuclear testing sites to international trade.


The rest of Ingo Gunther’s work is equally compelling and worth checking out.

Check out Ingo’s web site at:

All images are Ingo’s with full credit.

Social Software Visualization

Rfidparty Cool visualization of social actions.  In this case, an RFID party.

…attendees were handed RFID tags at the door, and their status at the party was tracked throughout the evening, with their location displayed on various screens. (more)