Numbers are so boring. Right? Well, sure, if they are represented as black and white characters on a spreadsheet or in a database. But what about when numbers are represented as flowing images on a map? Or when you add the element of time and animate the images into a video? What new insights could numbers give you then?
Check out this video recording of a TED presentation by Aaron Koblin, an artist specializing in data visualization (and the technology lead at the Creative Lab at Google). The video was filmed in March 2011 and posted on TED.com in May 2011.
In this video, Koblin shows several intriguing examples of insights that can be gleaned by exploring data and visualizing it in new ways.
- The Flight Patterns project depicts human behavior with air traffic control data. Koblin made the point that there are 140,000 planes being monitored by the US federal government at any given time. This volume of air traffic generates an extraordinary amount of data. The Flight Patterns project shows airplane traffic over North America over a 24-hour period. (Watch the YouTube video here.) As you play the video, you see the map of North America fade to black as people go to sleep. You see the red-eyes crossing the country overnight, and then you see people start to wake up on the east coast, and you see the European flights start to arrive on the east coast. When color-coded by aircraft type (manufacturer and model) you can see the diversity of planes in the sky. Color-coded another way, you can see low-altitude and high- altitude flights, and when colored in a third way you can see ascending vs. descending flights. You see the airport holding patterns, and can see the way airports change over time―such as when airports flip their flight patterns. All in a minute or two.
- Projects out of the SENSEable City Laboratory at MIT show we’re connected digitally. Koblin did a variety of projects with the SENSEable City Lab at MIT. One project, the New York Talk Exchange, illustrated the global exchange of information in real time by visualizing volumes of long distance telephone and Internet data traffic flowing between New York and cities around the world. He set it up as a live globe at the Museum of Modern Art in New York for a “Design and the Elastic Mind” exhibit. The exhibit showed demographic information coming through AT&T’s data stream. In another SENSEable City Lab project, Koblin applied visualization to data about SMS messages in Amsterdam. By animating the visuals, big spikes became apparent New Years Eve and Queens Day, when everyone is reaching out to their friends and loved ones.
Koblin shows some other fun visualization projects in this video, as well, such as The Sheep Market, The Johnny Cash Project, and The Wilderness Downtown. “An interface can be a powerful narrative device,” he says. “As we collect more personally and socially relevant data we have an opportunity―and maybe even an obligation―to maintain the humanity and tell some amazing stories as we explore and collaborate together.”