Monthly Archives: April 2011

Visualisations: Simplifying Information

In today’s world, there is just an abundance of information. How are we expected to process and absorb all this information when there is just more and more to remember and learn? Well, there is a very effective tool we can use to help us remember information, put information into a context and help us find patterns within data. These tools are called visualisations, which are visual images or a mental image that is similar to a visual perception.

Sometimes our minds cannot pick up on data that is in a table, full of figures and numbers. What do these numbers actually mean? Is it good or bad? We need to put these numbers in a context that we can understand. Using visualisations is a very effective method for doing this. For example, if someone said there are 3,200 tigers left in the world, that figure doesn’t mean much if you’re not aware of how many tigers used to be here 40 years ago. Then, if someone told you that 40,000 tigers existed in 1970, that gives you a clearer understanding that the number of tigers that exist have rapidly declined in the past 40 years. But to illustrate further and allow people to understand how drastic this decline is, a visualisation becomes a very effective tool. Take a look at the visualisation below. It puts things into perspective and makes evident how seriously endangered tigers are:

Depicts 3200 toy tigers (the frame of the image), equal to the estimated number of tigers remaining on Earth. The space in the middle would hold 40,000 of these tigers, equal to the global tiger population in 1970.

Zoomed in: The frame of the above visualisation.

Picture Sources:

 Video form of Chris Jordan’s Tiger Visualisation:

Visualisations create an association between data and the external world. That is why they’re so important. Raw data means nothing to people if they can’t see how it relates to the world they live in. Visualisations are able to bridge the gap between data and its relation to the world.

In terms of science visualisations, they allow us to visualize things that we wouldn’t ordinarily see, such as microscopic organisms, geology simulations and human anatomy for example. It’s very useful for scientific research as visualisations strengthen our knowledge in areas that we otherwise wouldn’t have known and understood. The link below provides a visualisation of the human brain:

Visualisations affect the way we interpret information. They give us a greater understanding of how things function, gives us insight into any patterns that are evident (but make it much easier to see these patterns visually) and put things into perspective and help us see the bigger picture. They also make the invisible, visible. For example, telling us how much carbon dioxide is in the Earth’s atmosphere doesn’t mean much to people within the ‘public sphere’ because there’s context. But if a graph shows the level of carbon dioxide has increased over the last 50 years, it puts the data into a context, and from this we can see the level is increasing every decade, allowing us to see that the current carbon dioxide levels have been unsafe since the mid 80s.

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Another major advantage with visualisations is that they keep us intrigued and interested in what the data is trying to tell us. For example, RSA use very effective visualisations during lectures on various topics. I was fascinated with the level of technique involved in creating such a unique visualisation and it definitely kept me listening when usually I would’ve diverted my attention somewhere else after a while. Below is a visualisation of a lecture about language.

Visualisations allow data to be assembled into one image that can easily be interpreted, making it easier to absorb and remember information. The human brain will always find it easier to remember an image rather than figures and facts in the form of words and numbers. With today’s world having more information than ever available, it’s no wonder visualisations are becoming more popular.


Anon. (2009) ‘Data Visualization Activism: Showing the Trends in Global Temperature’, Information Aesthetics: where form follows data, < data_visualization_activism_showing_trends_in_global_temperature.html>

Anon. (2009) ‘The Global Warming Skeptics versus the Scientific Consensus’, Information is Beautiful, <>

The co2now blog, <>

Leggett, Hadley, (2009) “Best Science Visualization Videos of 2009′, <>

RSA visualisations, <>

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Posted by on April 29, 2011 in Uncategorized


Visualisations: The Tool to Learn New Information

Information is everywhere. With the revolution of the Internet, information is highly accessible too, with almost any topic readily available for us to read. Sometimes information can cause information overload, and be too overwhelming for readers to absorb properly. This is why expressing information in a different form and different content can be a good idea. Visualisation can be very effective, making it easier for readers to understand a point and absorb information more accurately.

Visualisation can take shape in many forms. It’s a tool that captures data and information, and reorganises this data into a visual piece. It can be any kind of visual experience. It makes taking in data much more exciting and can improve people’s perceptions of certain data. The most interesting visualisations are when they make the invisible, visible, allowing people to look at data in a different light, in a way they’ve never seen it before (I’ve placed an example of a clever visualisation piece at the end).

The explored readings this week discussed very insightful visualisations. For example: dashed lines. It’s such a known visualisation, yet is used as so many functions: it allows us to see hidden objects, portrays temporal movement and portrays pathways. Lines are used everywhere as a form of visualisation, and different lines mean different things. Dave Gray of Xplay and Communication nation hit the nail on the head with his description of using lines in visualisations. He said, “I think of lines: double-line, solid, dashed, dotted. Similar to typeface conventions such as black, bold, regular, light. It’s a matter of emphasis. The thicker and more solid the line, the stronger the emphasis” (Timo 2006).

Another effective visualisation is laying photos next to each other to allow for comparison. For example, to inform people of what 200 calories looks like, a very effective visualisation is by gathering different types of food which are all 200 calories, allowing people to compare how much of one type of food equates to the same amount of calories as another type of food. The example can be seen below:

Different Foods, All Containing Exactly 200 Calories

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The reading of Plato on, ‘art and illusion’ explores whether visualisations are indeed truth, or an image of truth. The main point from this reading is that images are not the actual truth, but they are a representation of truth; the most accurate way of portraying reality without it actually being reality. Here is an excerpt of the conversation (Plato n.d.):

Str. A resemblance, then, is not really real, if, as you say, not true?

Theaet. Nay, but it is in a certain sense.

Str. You mean to say, not in a true sense?

Theaet. Yes; it is in reality only an image.

Str. Then what we call an image is in reality really unreal.

I think that some very effective visualisations are ones that are interactive. They create a new level of understanding as the viewer has to interact with the visualisation, releasing new information. The only problem with these interactive visualisations is that it can be quite confusing whether you’ve read and seen everything. At times, I’m not entirely sure I’ve read everything, and I get lost and am not sure of which stage of the visualisation I’m in. This allows for the possibility of skipping vital information and data. The Vectors Journal Editorial Staff mention this as a problem, “It is in the nature of interactive projects that you can never really be sure that you have read every word and seen every image. This is especially true of The Virtual Window Interactive, which requires patience and experimentation in order to experience it fully” (Editors and Friedberg, Anne 2007).

However, the interaction allows for better understanding and structure of the data, which is a big plus. Below is a very insightful visualisation of which countries use Facebook the most. It also gives a clear understanding of how connected everyone on Facebook is. Paul Butler, the creator of the visualisation (an intern at Facebook) wanted to see how geography and political borders affected where people lived relative to their friends and wanted to show which cities have a lot of friendships between them.

A Visualisation Showing Who Uses Facebook Around the Globe

 Picture Source:


Arnell, Timo (2006) ‘the dashed line in use’, <>

Infosthetics, n.d., ‘how does 200 calories look like’, <>

Plato (n.d.) on ‘art and illusion’ in ‘a snippet of a dialogue: Theodorus – Theaetetus – Socrates – an Eleatic stranger’ from Sophist, <>

Editors and Friedberg, Anne (2007) ‘The Virtual Window Interactive’ Vectors, 2(2) <>

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Posted by on April 19, 2011 in Uncategorized


WikiLeaks: Good or Bad?

This week we are focusing on the organisation WikiLeaks. Firstly, what is WikiLeaks? It’s an international non-profit organisation that publishes submissions of private, secret and classified media from anonymous news sources, news leaks and whistleblowers (Wikipedia 2011). They claim their main objective is to expose oppressive regimes Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but they also expect to be of assistance to people of all regions who wish to reveal unethical behaviour in their governments and corporations.

This week the debating question for our group regarding WikiLeaks is:

WikiLeaks gives power to the people.

The main argument for WikiLeaks is that it provides a voice for the people, allowing citizens to have access to information they have the right to see. What could be wrong about exposing oppressive governments and regimes?

People think it’s their right to see the information that governments and corporations have hidden from the public. If there wasn’t anything wrong with the classified information, then why would it be hidden? WikiLeaks is only exposing what these corrupt organisations don’t want the public to see, but as a democracy, we have a right to do so, and this is what WikiLeaks is achieving. It allows us to see extra information that we wouldn’t have otherwise seen, allowing us to form our own opinions on certain matters, which definitely gives power to the people.

On the other hand, there have been cases where it’s putting lives in danger by releasing certain information. Perhaps these governments and corporations have a legitimate reason for hiding certain documents from everyone else. For example, WikiLeaks put American troops in danger (Muhammad 2010) .

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that since WikiLeaks began to publish these diplomatic reports, they are harmful to American troops stationed on four continents, as they exposed vital American positions (Muhammad 2010) .

In the opinion of American officials, this publication is equivalent to arming terrorists. In order to demonstrate what these positions may be, American officials say the cables that were published include ongoing negotiations throughout the world, communications with countries in Europe regarding the establishment of new American military bases, recruitment of spies to chase al-Qaeda, current action against Iran and the position on Iraq, as summed up by more than 400,000 documents, as well as around 70,000 documents about Afghanistan (Muhammad 2010) . The image below shows how many cables WikiLeaks has leaked recently:

WikiLeaks and the Many Cables It Releases

 Picture Source:

WikiLeaks is a danger to global peace and threatens American lives all over Iraq, Afghanistan and the rest of the world. This is in no way, giving power to the people. (Here is a video below regarding WikiLeaks and their publishing of certain documents about the war in Afghanistan:

WikiLeaks also damages U.S. relations with friends and allies across the globe. In 2010, WikilLeaks released sensitive U.S. diplomatic files that the Obama administration said could damage U.S. relations with friends and allies. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, “These revelations are harmful to the United States and our interests”. “They are going to create tension in relationships between our diplomats and our friends around the world” (Washington 2010)

The release of confidential communications about foreign governments will probably erode trust in the United States as a diplomatic partner and could cause embarrassment if the files include derogatory or critical comments about friendly foreign leaders. 

“When this confidence is betrayed and ends up on the front pages of newspapers or lead stories on television or radio, it has an impact,” Crowley said (Washington 2010).

When WikiLeaks started to publish classified documents of detailed correspondence between the U.S. State Department and its diplomatic missions around the world, there were mixed reactions. Some western government officials expressed strong disapproval and criticism, and condemned WikiLeaks for potentially jeopardizing international relations and global security. The leak also created interest from the public, journalists, and media analysts. WikiLeaks received support from some commentators who questioned the necessity of government secrecy in a democracy that serves the interests of its people (Wikipedia 2011).

The question has to be asked why certain information is classified. Is it because governments and corporations want this information to be buried and hidden because something illegal or unethical has been committed? Or is it to keep citizens safe and not jeopardise citizens’ safety?


Muhammad, A.,13 Dec. 2010, “WikiLeaks and Its Negative Effects on America’s Role”, Watching America,

Washington, Nov. 24 2010, “U.S. Warns of Likely Harm from WikiLeaks Release”, CBS News,;lst;1

Wikipedia 2011, Wikileaks,

Wikipedia 2011, United States diplomatic cables leak,

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Posted by on April 12, 2011 in Uncategorized


Access To Information Has Never Been Easier!

One of the main points that I understood from the readings this week is that technology is affecting the way we live and function as human beings. It’s not a case of technology changing and humans watching this drastic change. The fact of the matter is, if technology changes, humans change too.

With technology also comes new ways of living life. Technology is changing us socially, whether we like it or not. It’s inevitable. Technology has the power to change the way we live our lives: the way we socialise, what people know about us and the way we process information. Social media websites allow us to socialise with people we’ve never met before, from all over the world and from different walks of life. We can chat to people who have the same interests as us, going by what they put on their profile for everyone to see. We can learn so much about a person without even meeting them! This was not at all possible just a few years ago. There is concern that these social media websites are causing us to become anti-social. We’d rather just type to people instead of meet with them face to face. This prevents the development of social skills and has been a worry amongst some, because technology is changing the social aspect of society. Technology has also caused a problem in the area of bullying. There are more opportunities now for people to get bullied online, known as ‘cyber bullying’. It has become such a major issue that there have been campaigns to put a stop to it. Here is one below:


Publishing has allowed a whole new social lifestyle to emerge that has become the norm. This has brought some good points and also some bad ones to the table. Publishing has allowed us as a society to communicate, store and organise thoughts, theories, information and knowledge. People can express their opinions, acquire more knowledge, research and learn. It has eradicated the barrier that used to exist to access information.

There are however, some bad points of this digital revolution. We are now more aware of how much personal information we make public. It can become quite dangerous if someone knows all your personal details, as they could use this information to steal your identity, or stalk you etc. But on the plus side, you are able to connect with people who have similar interests to you.

Because there is so much information available now, this has made us lazy as human beings. We don’t have to retain information the way we used to. Our memories aren’t being used as much because we don’t have to remember anything. All facts are being published and accessing this information is so easy. So, this gives us an excuse to forget information. For me personally, it has at times caused information overload because everywhere you look, there is more information to be read.

All this available information can cause information overload

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There is also speculation that all these technological advancements have made our attention spans worse. There are so many distractions, so much information available in the one place (the Internet) that we only navigate to the information that interests us. In my opinion, I don’t really see this as a major issue. The mass amount of information that is available to us hasn’t shortened our attention spans, rather, we just choose to read information that is of interest to us because it’s readily available, and this has always been the case. Why do children like looking at colourful picture books for hours, yet they can’t sit still for two seconds to solve a maths problem? Because to them a colourful picture book is way more interesting than a maths problem. It’s just human nature.

A children's book is far more interesting than a maths problem

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Why read boring material when there is readily available material that interests you? The only thing that I think is a concern is that with online publishing, people aren’t usually heavily engaged with information they read online because they usually have another window open that is a distraction. So in a way, they are ‘half reading’ both texts but are never fully engaged in either one.

The Commons in relation to publishing is also an issue. Should publishing be open access? I think it should. Everyone has an opinion and if they want to share it with the rest of the world, why shouldn’t they? It’s everybody’s right to publish whatever they want, as long as it’s their own work and not someone else’s. If it is someone else’s work, then they need to be acknowledged for it. Different forms of publishing such as file sharing, P2P and niche music sites allow people with similar interests to give and receive files, videos and audio to each other of the similar subjects they are interested in. This allows people with similar interests to find published works that would have been difficult to find.


File sharing has allowed people with similar interests to share published works of those similar interests

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Publishing nowadays seems to make a lot of knowledge and information available for everyone to access. But should it really be this way? Does anyone own this knowledge or information? I personally think that knowledge is something everybody has the right to acquire, but at the same time, if you are acquiring knowledge from someone else’s hard work, they should perhaps be acknowledged or be compensated in some way. I think the fairest way to display information these days is to have basic information accessed for free, and if anyone wishes to increase their knowledge further, then they can pay for the extra, more in depth information. This is already being done in the music industry. The site have promoted and exposed some musician’s music for free, but for a higher quality version of a song, people need to pay. I think this is quite an effective strategy to deal with the commons and publishing, because ease of access to information will always be here and there will have to be a strategy put in place for this current grey area.


Kinsley, Sam (2010) ‘The Technics of Attention’, Paying Attention <>

Kinsley, Sam (2010) ‘Tiziana Terranova—The Bios of Attention’, Paying Attention <>

Kinsley, Sam, (2010) ‘Day 3 > Michel Bauwens’ Paying Attention, <>

Rock, David (2010) ‘New study shows humans are on auto pilot nearly half the time’, Psychology Today, <>

Robin Good and Michel Bauwens (2010) ‘From Open Business Models to an Economy of the Commons’, Robin Good, <>

Yoffe, Emily (2009) ‘Seeking: How the brain hard-wires us to love Google, Twitter, and texting. And why that’s dangerous’ Slate, <>

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Posted by on April 4, 2011 in Uncategorized