Eyeo Festival – Notes, Day 3
Wednesday June 29, 2011
Numerical Narratives – Nicholas Felton
How would a life look in charts and graphs? Nicholas Felton has been exploring this question for the last six years with his Feltron Annual Reports. In this presentation, he will discuss the tools and techniques of his data collection, curation and design, including the process behind the 2010 report on the life of his father.
The Feltron Annual Reports have earned Nicholas Felton fame and forever changed the world of personal data. Felton is always searching for stories. He finds a need as a graphic designer to have content and stories to work with. He designs what he knows, and the story he has best access to is his own story. As a sort of preview to the annual reports, his "Playcation" project stitched postcards into a fictional roadtrip, extrapolating real-life moments with fictional narrative, creating a sort of semi-fiction.
His annual reports evolved from a desire to encapsulate a year, package it up into its discoveries, and move on to the next one. He shares, "The reason the reports are about me is because that's the data I have the best access to." He says they are not really a riff on traditional annual reports, but more like "how do I communicate this random idea?" Because of the popularity of the annual reports, he decided to make a print one and up the ante. He started to deliberately document his data and create "data stories." These stories entertain, sate curiosity for him. The stories, and the themes of the annual reports are focussed on specific topics, for examples, "how many miles do I travel in a year?" Each topic requires a certain methodology and tools to document and collect the data. Once you start gathering the data, you start to see patterns or outliers. These become the data stories.
Felton is interested in telling larger stories with fewer words. 1) Ask a question. 2) Research the answer. 3) Wrangle the data. 4) Edit and design. Felton shared that he uses Processing and InDesign in the process of creating his annual reports.
He had a slide in his presentation that showed a matrix of the data collection landscape. It included on one axis "Electronic" and "Human," and on the other axis "Active" and "Passive." He then placed several things in the matrix: Physical sensors (E, H); online (E, P) – tracking mint.com and other; self-tracking (H, A) – turning yourself into a sensor; and shared tracking (H, P) – receipts, passports, newspaper mentions, etc.
Social tracking became the theme for the 2009 annual report. The question was, "how does my activity look as viewed by other people?" The process became a communication medium between people where he was breaking out responses and had a tagging process on those responses. He then came up with an index to map the mood terms to.
The 2010 annual report was on Felton's father. It was inspired by the data, by the story of his father's life, and by the artifacts left behind. An interesting side-note – in the process, Felton put unknown photos online and crowd-sourced locations he couldn't identify. In a way, Felton was a data sleuth, in addition to historian and biographer. The photos used in the report were mainly used just to give context to the report. The atlas is driven by his father's travel history, and became very much a memory map. Felton adds a bit of humor to things by showing the average location of his father's travel. Kind of a useless number, but something that contains a sense of delight and curiosity in the data and data artifacts and extrapolations. The index of the 2010 report was created mainly to stimulate memories.
Felton is now a designer at Facebook.
Some works shown:
The Feltron Annual Reports – http://feltron.com/
Between Five Bells wine labels – http://theofficeof.feltron.com/1027154/Between-Five-Bells
Playcation - stitched postcards into fictional roadtrip
Daytum – http://daytum.com/
Models and Methodologies for Participatory Urban Projection Intervention – Ali Momeni
During the last three years, Momeni and his mobile projection collective MAW have performed over 400 “outings” throughout the country and abroad. By and large, these projection interventions have involved large scale outdoor projections, mobility, large scales, real-time media, gestural interactions and participatory theater. During this lecture, Momeni will share a theoretical analysis of the means and the ends of participatory mobile projection, in order to investigate the political, theatrical, and poetic potentialities of this highly interdisciplinary practice.
Momeni is interested in creating a visual terminology, and a way of making technology tools mobile. He is trying to get rid of the facade of technology and be able to interact more gesturally. MAW is interested in creating tools for easily creating media facades, mobile projection works.
MAW creates impromptu and unannounced projects. When MAW does an outdoor performance, they never ask for permission – it is better to ask for forgiveness, though part of the policy is that if they are ever asked to stop, they stop.
A question Momeni asked is "What is the metrics for participation?" A lot of the time, people are watching the creators, not just the projection. Operators can double as performers. Momeni has developed many interesting models for exploring the relationship and dynamics of these kinds of performances. One example is the "remote model" has the projector hidden, but people can interact directly with the projects perhaps through some sort of contact, like texting a number and having your text show up on the projection, or calling a number and having a real human interaction take place as a mediator between you and the projection. He is interested in creating a social context where conversation can happen in a playful way.
Because of the nature of a live projection performance, documentation takes a really important part in the project. You create images that stand for something that happened, and it is important to publish them later.
Some works shown:
"Truce" mosquito choir... two pitches matching
MAW – Minneapolis Art on Wheels
"Smoke and Hot Air" – news headlines blowing smoke
"Table Setting" – table-top musical theater
"Women's Desert Liberation Front"
"Seaworthy" – a conversation piece revealing the expression in the eyes at the moment of the question:
"Exquisite Corpse/Lavish Martyr" – a participatory and networked street performance at ZERO 1, San Jose
"The Battle of Everyouth"
New York, New York – Jer Thorp
In this presentation, Jer will dive deep into two large-scale projects he has worked on over the last year in New York City. First, he’ll talk about Project Cascade, a real-time analytic tool built to examine how New York Times content is shared through Twitter. Second, he’ll discuss his work designing a name arrangement algorithm for the 9/11 Memorial in Manhattan. He’ll walk through collaborative processes, admit to a series of spectacular failures and ultimately show how custom software tools can be made to solve extraordinary problems.
Thorp played a large part in curating the Eyeo Festival. He is currently the Data Artist in Residence at the New York Times. That opportunity had everything to do with people and connections. The people matter, and who you work with matters most. People are so important to everything. People are always constructing, exploring histories. History is a major theme in many of the examples seen in data visualization and in the works of Thorp.
At the NY Times, Thorp is working on the Cascade project, which shows how stories in the NY Times are shared via Twitter, though the tool could be applied to anything being shared. It is based on the concept that any single sharing event becomes multiple events – a cascade, a chain of events. In detecting when bit.ly encodes in a tweet, and when it is expanded later in the browser, you can document the chain of events in this sharing cascade.
The idea came from the need to build an exploratory tool to travel the landscape of data and find out how people are using and sharing the NY Times content. An exploratory tool is like going to the Grand Canyon vs. seeing a picture of it. In the Cascade project, you get multiple views – cascade view, story view, and person view. Through these many views, you can turn the data on a physical or conceptual angle to reveal more meaning. There is also radar mode to see threads of conversations. There are also some more advanced views that take a bit of training to use. The project uses live data from three sources: the NY Times archive, backtweets, and bit.ly. Data is stored in a database, and the project uses a Python API to serve up Processing. In the loading screen you see the retrieval of the Twitter icons.
Some advice from Thorp – explode a project out as far as you can and then narrow it back down. Don't start reasonable – start in unreasonable and come back to reasonable.
Another project Thorp showcased was the 9/11 memorial. In the memorial, people's names are ordered relationally around two fountains. Placing these names in the context of complex relationships is a difficult math problem – a mathematics and optimization problem. In the process, they used a network map to show the links between people, utilized a genetic algorithm, created adjacency clusters that became like puzzle pieces. It was a design problem as well. Each puzzle piece, each name, each letter was treated as a piece of typography. In the placement, they considered groupings by department, company, floor, and individual relationships. It was a very human problem, as it embodied histories and personal memorials.
Memorials represent our lives, not just date of death. This is something Thorp is interested in exploring in Openpaths. Openpaths uses location data from your phone to track your movements over time. You can securely store this data, share it with researchers, and visualize it. Check it out:
Data Arts (Software for Storytelling and Exploration) – Aaron Koblin
Aaron will talk about some of the experiments, libraries and software he and his team at Google have been involved with over the last couple of years. From the Wilderness Downtown with Arcade Fire, and ROME with Danger Mouse, to interactive geographic visualization platforms and reusable gui elements. It’s internet art after animated GIFs (but still using some animated GIFs).
Koblin is interested in how you get people to work together to build something bigger. He showed a few examples – the Bicycle Built for 2,000, the Radio Head music video remix project, and the Johnny Cash project. Collaboration is a long road, and sometimes you need a strong cause to rally behind when engaging the community. The Johnny Cash project is particularly moving because of this. In the project, people draw frames of a music video created from archival footage. The result is a living, breathing memorial of his last recording – a music video embedded with deep symbolism and imagery related to the song. Because of the process of having each artist's drawing recorded, you can interact on an even deeper level by re-watching the creation of each frame, rate frames, and view many variations of the music video based on which frames are chosen to play, as there are multiple versions of many of the frames drawn.
Some examples shown:
Holding Patterns from Air Traffic – http://www.aaronkoblin.com/work/flightpatterns/index.html
Radio Head Music Video, House of Cards – http://www.aaronkoblin.com/work/rh/index.html
Bicycle Built for 2,000 – http://www.bicyclebuiltfortwothousand.com/
Johnny Cash Project – http://www.thewildernessdowntown.com/
Chrome Experiments – http://www.chromeexperiments.com/
WebGL Globe – http://data-arts.appspot.com/globe
Sketch – http://www.chromeexperiments.com/detail/sketch/
Fractal Lab – http://www.chromeexperiments.com/detail/fractal-lab/
3 Dreams of Black – http://www.chromeexperiments.com/detail/3-dreams-of-black/
The Wilderness Downtown – http://www.thewildernessdowntown.com/
Panel: Data Viz & Social Justice – Laura Kurgan, Lisa Strausfeld, Mark Hansen, Michal Migurski
This panel will look into the relationship between data (collection | sharing | analysis | visualization) and social justice. What can we reveal about the state of things by creating new views of the data? Can making the data more meaningful actually effect change in society?
This talk was a deep cut at the topics of ethics, social justice, and change in relation to data and it's many forms.
When you deal with data, you are dealing with the systems of collection, protection, and sharing that are in place in your community and around the world. Data has its own politics, its own set of assumptions. "There is no such thing as raw data," says Kurgan. In some cases, the data can be almost explosive – it must be approached with some caution, such as data on incarcerated people, and crime data.
Data can also be used for social activism. How can we use data and social media to enable activism? How can we engage people? Often entertainment is a first step in engagement, activism, and justice.
Participatory data projects are becoming more and more common – for example crowd-sourced mapping, where real-time maps can be drawn by individuals in the area. This is being used in earthquake and other disaster zones. But with this public participation model, there come issues of legibility, access to technology, and feedback – how can we not throw in barriers and make useful tools? What happens to the data or the tools when the public begins to use them?
What are effective strategies for encouraging participation? What are design strategies for engaging people? Hansen is interested in participatory sensing – or, the idea of people as pixels, the human as sensor; particles and movement and dynamic systems. How can we, as individuals become part of the larger system? And does this process de-humanize us? On one hand, it means that everyone has the opportunity to be a pixel or orchestrate the pixels, but on the other hand, does this de-value the individual?
We need to ask questions about what these visualizations are telling us about our neighborhoods, and the effects they are having on our perception. Social justice should be an important organizing principle in our community. How can we leverage self-organizing principles of communities and people to effect change?
Hansen asks us to think about where data comes from, and the role that this source plays in the interpretation and presentation of the data. How can we tell a more compelling, and a more complete story with the data we have available? Utilizing multiple data sources can be a good start at fleshing out the scope and depth of the data.
Strausfeld is interested in combining the data with editorial, in furthering the data journalism movement. "There's nothing like a really catchy headline to draw you in," she says. Journalism is taking the lead with headlines that lead to deep, streaming visualization pieces. There is a constant stream of data, and editors are pulling out stories. There are so many types of editorial angles, for every type of audience. And now, with the deepening of our relationships with technology, there are ways to mobilize people through a combination of web, physical location, and cross-platform mediums. Yet multi-channel is still a big challenge, and a new medium.
Accessibility of data and visualization is a concern – computer-literate and non-computer-literate crowds both need to be engaged and sometimes in different ways. You need to be careful about presupposing your audience understands the data. How can we represent ambiguity and complexity of data visually, but also accessibly? If there were better media literacy, we wouldn't need to throw in error bars, and you would understand that the visualization is a conversation between the designer and the data. And sometimes, we just need more data. Because of this, it is good practice to publish your data with your visualization.
With data viz, there is this element of people picking up the ball and running with it when you give it to them. You may publish your piece as a "finished" piece, ready for consumption, but it's also a starting point for new work. The attitude needs to be: do it first, then see where it goes, open up the data and the process, and share! Use your creativity as a means to engender further means and creativity. This idea of the larger data viz community is important to the future of the medium – some of what makes working in this medium great is that problem-solving with like-minded folks makes it fun and interesting. If you work in a community, as collaborators, there is excitement around the transformation of the work, trading techniques, and the content that comes along with those techniques. The social dynamic is golden – make it a big party!
A question was asked, "Is data viz a means for good?"
In response: How do you do the right thing with your data? You try to be responsible. If it's a medium, then it's the input and output that matters. There's nothing inherent about the medium saying you have to say spacious things. We need better tools, more conversation, more visualization, and literacy. We need a set of best practices around what it means to do a visualization, some sort of expectation that with a visualization comes the data. How can we educate people on best practices? How do we get from "tool-literate" to "visual-communication-literate?" How can we introduce a set of ethics and ambitious codes for the community, so that we know what we're aiming for? One thing that would be a great outcome of this conference would be a set of best-practices. We need to collaborate, engage with eachother, and be social.
Last updated July 26, 2011 by Megan