When most of us think of data we tend to think of bland spreadsheets and rows of numbers. Data entry is hardly the most glamorous of jobs, after all, and most people who have studied statistics will probably have cold-sweats just thinking about those classes.
Yet, data doesn’t actually have to be dry at all and, increasingly, the technology industry is starting to view it in different ways. Data can actually be beautiful when it’s presented correctly. It can be insightful and it can tell a story. Don’t believe me? Just keep reading…
The Impact of Data on the Web
The thing to remember is that, today, we have access to far more raw data than ever before in human history. That’s thanks to the web largely, but also the increasing power of computers in general. Just think about a site like Facebook. It has billions of users and, in fact, has more users than most countries have residents. That’s incredible, but what’s even more amazing is the sheer amount of information that Facebook has on all of those users – their dates of birth, their current mood, their current status, their gender, their likes and more. This data is both quantitative and qualitative and the number of correlations you could draw from that is simply huge.
What region has the happiest people? What do fans of Jurassic Park have in common with fans of Star Wars? When was the planet’s “saddest day?”
In Facebook’s case, the sheer amount of data available is unfathomable, but even smaller sites and companies are now gaining access to these unwieldy amounts of data – which is what has led to the term ‘big data’ being used. That’s data that’s so… well big… that it’s almost a bad thing. Where do you store it? Where do you even begin to look through it?
Visualisation and the Impact of Data
This is why some creative individuals and companies have decided to start taking a different approach to that information: by presenting it in a way that is more accessible, more colourful and more beautiful.
These systems work first by “scraping” sites like Facebook and Twitter for the information followed by displaying that information in a series of coloured bubbles, lines, dots, you name it. There are some incredibly inventive uses out there that are both beautiful to look at, and that can make an impressive statement… almost like poetry…
Examples of the Impact of Data
Here, for instance, is a fascinating visualisation of national spending. It looks at what people from different countries spend their money on, using differently sized boxes to instantly show comparisons and lend context.
With a simple glance, you can now see which country spends the most on electronics versus tobacco. What does that say about the differences in those countries?
How about TwitterThoughts? This one uses a graph with coloured balls to graph trends on Twitter – allowing you to quickly see what the current hot topics are. Or you could try TwittEarth that shows live feeds of Tweets on a giant 3D globe showing where they come from.
After something even more ambitious? Check out this hierarchical structure of the internet which shows the organisation and hierarchy of the entire web in a giant sphere of connected nodes. Visit this link if you want to see a more comprehensive list.
Each of these is as beautiful as it is fascinating and impactful. Data can be beautiful then not only in the way it is presented, but also in the story it tells.