So one of my on-off obsessions of late has been the evolution of the data visualisation space. I think I find it so interesting because data commands such power now. For one thing there's so much of it. According to some, 2009 could have generated more individual data than has been created in the entire history of mankind through 2008. The web is, as Russell Davies has said, moving beyond being a thing of sites and is becoming a thing of APIs and services. Our data is rapidly escaping the boundaries of particular websites, and will soon escape the web itself ("and...all those glowing rectangles"), so that we move from representing the world on the web, to embedding the web in the world. Tim O'Reilly calls it the 'internet operating system', a system where the real world casts 'information shadows'.
So data is everywhere. Which means visualisation is not only hermeneutic and explanatory, but interpretive and allegorical. And developing not only commercial power, but political power. And, as we become more conscious of our own data, a tool to record, to tell stories, and to understand. Infographic designer Nicholas Felton even visualises the detail behind his life in an annual report (the 2009 report has just been released, and you can read an interview with Nicholas by Mike Arauz here).
But then I also love visualisation simply for its artfulness. Recently, Infosthetics pointed at Hint FM, representing the work of Fernanda Viegas and Martin Wattenberg and incorporating some quite beautiful visualisations like Flickr Flow (pictured above) which uses an algorithm to show the ebb and flow of seasonal colours from a large pool of Flickr images taken in each month of the year. And Web Seer, which uses data from Google Suggest (the drop down that anticipates your search as you type it in) to provide interesting juxtapositions between two different searches. And Chromogram, a visualisation of activity on Wikipedia that maps words to colours. Insightful, clever, yet beautiful.