"The ability to take data – to be able to understand it, to process it, to extract value from it, to visualize it, to communicate it – that's going to be a hugely important skill in the next decades…Because now we really do have essentially free and ubiquitous data. So the complimentary scarce factor is the ability to understand that data and extract value from it." Hal Varian, Google
One of the quotes I seem to be using most these days is that one from Eric Schmidt about how five exabytes of information were created between the dawn of civilisation and 2003, and yet the same amount of data is now being created every two days (and that rate of growth is accelerating).
Making sense of data is one of the biggest challenges faced by content producers of all kinds. During a journalism fellowship at Stanford, Geoff McGhee interviewed practitioners and trendsetters in data visualisation about how creative and publishing businesses "retool their staff and systems to prepare for a future in which data becomes a medium". The result is an outstanding film which is as insightful as it is inspirational.
Vision is the biggest band width we have in terms of sensory information. So this film talks about how visualisation of data can communicate both the context and the narrative elements of a story, and how (in a familiar refrain) value comes from completeness of data combined with the kind of judgement, interpretation and understanding of context and story that only human brains can bring.
It travels through the different narrative structures that can be used to help communicate complex stories (like the 'Martini Glass' – having led people through a more strictly scripted story you then open up the visualisation for more exploration), how good visualisation recognises that data cannot work in isolation, but combines it with different narrative formats like motion graphics (like the well-known but brilliant Crisis Of Credit Visualised), how visualisation is rapidly becoming a new expressive language, a discipline that is evolving and growing, and the beginnings perhaps of a real movement.
Along the way we learn about the value of rapid iteration (another familiar refrain), the challenge of live data (imagine breaking news stories appearing in a live visualisation), and we end where we began, with the increasing democratisation of visualisation through initiatives such as IBM's Many Eyes, sites like Swivel, and applications like Google charts.
HT to flowingdata