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WIAD DC Data Visualization panel

Published in Conference

WIAD DCThis weekend I participated in a fun panel on Data Visualization as part of World Information Architecture Day in DC. The moderator was Sean Gonzalez from Data Community DC and included from Amy Cesal from Sunlight Foundation, and Maureen Linke and Brian Price from USA Today / Gannett Digital.

You can see the video here.

There was a clearly interesting gap between our perspectives as storytellers versus tool creators. Data journalists such as Maureen and Brian focus on a story and develop or use tools that focus on that story. From one theme to the next, they reuse these tools but each output is a uniquely crafted experience in order best convey a story.

By contrast, I focus on building platforms and tools that enable anyone to develop their own story. In order to do this, I need to think about the generalization of data management and visualization capabilities to adapt to a wide range of applications. The tools need to permit customization without requiring indoctrination such that the storyteller can focus on their goal without the tool getting in the way.

Importance of Data

Common across all of our discipline, and the point that was most reiterated, was the vitality of data. At first finding quality, authoritative data, and subsequently the effort to clean it up, validate, normalize, analyze, and finally portray. The best visualization is useless if the data are suspect.

Fortunately, finding data is getting easier. Driven by open data initiatives and supported through specific and growing open data catalogs from the source means that there is reduced effort discovering relevant information to use for your visualizations.

Imperative to proper journalism, and the web, is the requirement to cite your source. Even more, linking to the source data and authority means that users can trackback to the raw data and create or validate their own findings.

Evolution of Medium

Along the concept of web links a few of the audience asked about when which type of visualization was appropriate. When is a static image sufficient and when should you use a complex interactive visualization?

Our discussion explored the idea of responsive visualization where it is important to understand the reader’s medium and situation of consumption: mobile phone on the metro, laptop in the office, or a mix of both? Personally I tend to find interesting articles on my phone and bookmark them for viewing later in full resolution on my laptop or iPad.

By developing responsive visualization, a story can provide a fast and sufficient static image on a mobile device while growing into a deeper visualization on a computer.


We shared many specific resources through the discussion. A few of the highlights include Nathan Yau’s FlowingData, replete with examples, critique and tutorials. O’Reilly has a number of books on data visualization and data science that walk through detailed methodologies and examples. Journalists should check out NICAR.

International Cartographic Association

Published in Conference

International_Cartographic_Association.pngLast week I immersed myself deep in the culture and community of map design. The biennial gathering is the major cartography conference, International Cartographic Association world, held this year in historic Dresden, Germany. It was my first time with little awareness or expectation of the community, one that throughout the week I both enjoyed but also some consternation.


Steve Chilton extemporizes.jpgThe week kicked off with a joint workshop of the Commissions on Map Design and Neocartography hosted by the illustrious Steve Chilton and Ken Field . Throughout the day many of us shared our thoughts and suggestions for the concepts digital, personal, interactive realtime cartography. I will write up my talk separately, but the many other attendees covered insightful areas of work and ideas. Julia Mia Stirnemann, a designer by background, showed the importance of projection in storytelling and perspective demonstrating her WorldMapBuilder. Beate Weninger demonstrated the clear case and design work for better colors in digital cartography – particularly gradient color ramps that affect color vision deficiencies and even situational color blindness caused by ambient environment, lighting, screen displays, and other non-controllable interferences with your maps.

Throughout the conference there were plentiful gems of research and ideas. One of the best talks was by Ian Muehlenhaus on the methodology and rhetoric of the dark side of cartography, persuasive maps.

There were other cross-overs from GIS to cartography in particular dealing with the growing amount of crowd-sourced data that may need new uncertainty analysis and types of uncertainty visualization. Similarly there was an entire session on Temporal animation.

Neogeography was well represented, from a smellmap to [community gathered tribal maps] and more artistic portrayals such as [The Visitors].

I highly suggest perusing the Conference schedule. There are good papers, many with the PDF papers included. You may find inspiration or references to include in your own work.


Ceiling.jpgThe ICA is over 50 years old, and reflects a wide view of the historic and emerging roles and techniques of cartography. The ICA operates through a number of volunteer identified and created commissions which are formed on the basis of identifying a particular aspect of cartography that merits discussion, research, publication, and evaluation. These commissions alone indicate the range of cartography: from the general Map Design and GeoVisualization to the very specific Globes and even Planetary Cartography.

Throughout the week conference sessions are organized around themes within these commissions. The structure works to encourage the community to adapt to emerging trends and areas of interest that can subsequently foster micro-communities or hypothetically reach out to external groups.

In my experience typical of any long-running and well established community, there exists a self-fulfilling echo chamber. During one meeting a remark was made that everyone is making maps, yet the ICA and cartography journals are shrinking. The knee-jerk response was that it the industry is not supportive of cartography – meaning there are fewer “cartography professorships” and research publications. These reactions miss the point that it is the broader, and differential, groups that are adopting cartography as a practice within their domains and would benefit from the active and continuous engagement from communities like the ICA within these external communities.

Brian Timoney has noted the same effect in GIS.

Future ICA

Dresden Church.jpgThe ICA Conference was vibrant, and had a clearly emerging group of newer cartographers and even digital technical aspects that indicate a good future for the association – or at least that community. I was truly impressed by the class of International Cartography Master’s students whom spend three semesters stationed at different technical universities learning the many historic and modern capabilities of cartography which culminate in a semester focused capstone project. The students I met were intelligent, capable, and excited to talk and share ideas.

Many of the ICA groups attend other geographic conferences such as NACIS, or FOSS4G and State of the Map – but I hope that more also reach to the developer and web communities to share their expertise, insights, and collaborate.

Academy of Achievement

Published in Business, Conference

Congratulations, you’ve succeeded at the first third of your life. How are you going to succeed in the next third? – David Rubenstein


If you read any of my posts over the last week you may have noticed a few interesting checkins and comments from well know places and people. I was incredibly fortunate to be an invited delegate to the Academy of Achievement summit in Washington, DC. It was a singularly unique opportunity to dine with US Supreme Court Justices, a personal tour of the capitol building from members of congress, and generally inspired by intelligence, capability and surprising humility of the world’s most accomplished people.

The Academy of Achievement is an organization celebrating its 50th anniversary connecting and recognizing individuals that have undoubtedly achieved renown. Nobel laureates, public heads of state, Pulitzer prize authors, and numerous other world changing leaders of our time. Once a year they gather to induct a new class of honorees who then share their experience and insights to the next generation of leaders and changers, or as they referred to us “troublemakers”. The class ranged from well-respected leaders such as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Congressman Edward Markey, and Judge Sonia Sotomayor to innovative creators such as Sal Khan, Nobel Laureates Roger Tisen and Adam Riess.

Andrew & Ralph Nader

There were extremely impressive colleagues in the delegates as well. You can read about Khaled’s work providing communications to the rebels in the overthrow of Gaddafi. Bassem Bouguerra left his engineering job at Yahoo to rebuild Tunisia; Humairai Wakili built an NGO to incubate women-owned companies in Nablis, Palestine; and Josh Nesbit‘s use of mobile phones to dramatically alter access and capabilities for medical support around the world are just a few examples of the delegates who are so impressive they challenge you to evaluate what is worth working on.

Held this year in DC, the entire summit was shaped by the current US politics and pending elections. Regardless of the of the ideology of the speaker, nearly everyone shared their frustration and concern about the deep divide by the US leadership. Yet despite this current concern there is admiration of what “America” is – more than a country or set of single laws, but of an idea that is permeating more of the world each day and particularly by the people that are currently shaping their own countries.

The General and the QueenThe Academy of Achievement publishes the talks online through iTunesU and on their website. Over the four days of intense discussions I’ve had many new inspirations and reflections that I will be writing about more.

Any event that ends dancing with Aretha Franklin, Colin Powell and others is undoubtedly an amazing experience.

Geospatial Preservation at Society of American Archivists

Published in Conference, Data

Cross-posted from the GeoIQ Blog

ChgoButton_9_24_10.jpgLast Week I participated in a panel with spatial archival experts at the at the Society of American Archivists. Led by Butch Lazorchak of the Library of Congress, and also joined by Steve Morris from GeoMAPP, and John Faundeen from USGS, the panel was a full spectrum discussion of “Geospatial Data Preservation” ranging from the Library of Congress’ $10 million acquisition and access to the infamous Waldseemüller 1507 map Universalis Cosmographia of ‘America’ USGS’s environmental conditions for storing historic satellite imagery to GeoMAPP’s work in gathering time-stamped state geospatial data. Butch in particular provided an inspiring overview on what’s special about Spatial – density of data, representation vs data, and the difficulty in capturing interactivity of more modern digital maps.

The Archivists were a new community to me – people that are passionate about the capturing and storing of data – often until the end of time! But they also vary in their core missions – often diverging on the utility of the captured data and information. Very few seem to be really thinking about archives as a useful resource today and only focusing on the long-time storage and eventual access of the data by some unknown entity. As one member of GeoMAPP said: “All of the Archives are storing this superseded GIS data in dark archives and aren’t really providing access to the datasets and don’t have web mapping interfaces”

Clearly, we think a bit differently about archiving – choosing to focus foremost on access to data which will result in improved archiving of data, distribution, and analysis on utility and benefit. My presentation Maps as Narratives: Making Spatial Archives Accessible

focused on the concept that maps have been, and are increasingly a vital resource for people in their daily lives and work. By providing users tools to access and use historic and realtime data, we can then capture this data and provide it to other users and data repositories.

Particular to internet feeds, and social media we can’t easily predict what data will be useful. Neogeographers create visualizations of twitter streams, photos, foursquare checkin’s, friend locations. How do we know which of these are the modern correspondances of tomorrow’s US President or Global business leader? Through easy mechanisms for sharing data and maintaining links we can begin tracking this information in it’s varied forms, providing better insight and archiving of data for later reuse, whether it is tomorrow or in 100 years.

Heading to WhereCamp5280

Published in Conference, Neogeography

WhereCamp5280 Hooky Bobbing at GeoCommons Maker!.pngI’m enroute to the mile-high city of Denver that boasts a plethora of geo-talent for WhereCamp5280. Today there is a ‘hackfest‘ at CU Denver Campus, then on Friday a full day of discussion, brainstorming and defining the future of geo.

It’s almost half-way between Where2.0 and WhereCamp5280 is stacked to be an interesting discussion of the current state of affairs in what has been called “the year of location”. And given the cadre of people that will be coming to WhereCamp5280, such as Waze, MapQuest, WeoGeo, Safe, Google, USGS, ESRI, numerous other geo-geniuses, and of course, a cadre of FortiusOne engineers – we definitely should have some fascinating discussions. I hope if you’re nearby you can make it too!