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Posts: 5
Reply with quote  #1 
On page 312, you mentioned abstract visualization as related to virtual worlds, but not outside of them. I remember seeing an awesome abstract visualization in 2005 at the inaugural G.A.M.E.S. Synergy Summit (government, academia, military, entertainment, and simulation communities) in Orlando, FL. It was produced by Dynamic Animation Systems and as I recall, it represented the nodes of the global Internet as a field of yellow poppies, blowing in a breeze. The "breeze" represented network activity which changed the heights of the poppies as traffic waxed and waned. Nodes of significant activity stood much higher than the others, and ones with activity typically associated with malicious intent turned red. One could click on any poppy to move from the abstract representation to the literal representation (IP address, packet types, etc.) maintaining situational awareness of all and of parts. As incredibly powerful as this was, the vendors told me the potential client did not buy it. I still remember it vividly.

I think the merging of ideas and communities as occur at activities like  the G.A.M.E.S. Synergy Summit will hasten information visualization improvements.


Posts: 852
Reply with quote  #2 
beeker85 (aka, Eric),

Based on your description, I doubt that I would consider this field of poppies an effective visualization. When I wrote about visualizations of abstract data in Now You See It, I was referring to the nature of the data as abstract, not the nature of the visualization as an abstract piece of art. I'm using "abstract data" in the way that it was used when Stuart Card, Jock Mackinlay, and Ben Shneiderman defined "information visualization" as "...the use of computer-supported interactive visual representations of abstract data to amplify cognition." They were making a distinction between scientific visualization (visual representations of physical data, such as MRI scans) and information visualization (visual representations of non-physical data, such as financial data).

Useful ideas might emerge from game designers becoming involved with information visualization, but I doubt that a field of poppies will qualify. Designers trained in the graphic arts have been creating visualizations like this for several years, but so far I haven't seen any that extend the field of information visualization in useful ways. Why represent a node as a flower with petals when the petals don't mean anything? Network diagrams are complicated and cluttered enough without meaningless visual content.

The dashboard product originally named Xcelsius (then Crystal Xcelsius and most recently SAP Dashboard Designer) was initially developed by people who came from the video game industry. Rather than taking time to understand the difference between video games and data visualization, they simply applied video game graphic design principles to data visualization, which resulted in a silly product with an array of flashy but ineffective gauges and graphs. Whenever people trained in one discipline become involved in another, they must take the time to learn about that other discipline--it's objectives and its best practices--before they can bring a fresh perspective to it that extends it in useful ways.

Stephen Few

Posts: 33
Reply with quote  #3 
I did some of that type of 3D presentation in Second Life a few years back. My system finished up as an interesting artwork but completely useless for detecting anything useful in the data. It was just too hard to zoom around and keep a close eye on everything. It was fun to build and interesting to watch, but I put it aside as a poor way of seeing anything - though I do have some more ideas that I would like to play with one day when time permits.

Peter Robinson
in Brisbane, Australia
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