Feb 1, 2009

Reflections: Need for Interactive Infoviz for the Financial Biz, Business Leaders, Government Officials, Educators and the Rest of Us...

If you follow this blog because you are interested in emerging multimedia technologies such as multi-touch and gesture-based displays and tables, you probably know that there is a huge void in terms of content -rich applications for these systems.

Most of the demos show how you can zoom, rotate, and resize photographs, sort through your "stuff", or bat things around the surface as a game.
There is so much more power behind surface technology that needs to be realized!

Here are some of my reflections...

As I write this post, leaders of the financial industry, large corporations, and governments are in Davos, Switzerland at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. It is interesting to note that all of these bright men and women are struggling to grasp the enormity of the world's financial crisis and come up with strategies that hopefully will work.


The graphic below depicts how much has changed in the world economy between the 2008 annual meeting of the World Economic forum and the present. It lacks
the "wow" factor that one would expect for an application running on an interactive display. With some tweaking, it could be transformed into an application that supports two people interacting with the data at the same time.


(Click above photo to link to the interactive graphic.)
Via the Wall Street Journal

Here are more examples related to the current economic crisis:


Annus Horribilis in 3D
Financial chart by artist Andreas Nicholas Fischer
via Dan Pink





Life in the Left Tail
(Click for a larger image) via Greg Mankiw's Blog:
Random Observations for Students of Economics, via
Daily Kos

"On this chart each block represents a year and each column represents a range of return on the S&P index. Over on the right side are those lucky years where the index has soared upward from 50-60%. In the middle are the more typical years, where the market has risen less than 10%. That little box on the far left? Yeah, that's this year..And hey, how many of you knew the S&P had been around since 1825?." - Devilstower of the Daily KOS
I've been thinking about interactive information visualization and how it can support our understanding of the current economic crisis a bit lately, inspired by what I learned in Dr. Robert Kosara's InfoViz class I took last year. In a recent post on the Eager Eyes blog, Dr. Kosara floats the idea of the establishment of a "National Data Agency".

http://eagereyes.org/media/2009/nda.png

"What we need is a National Data Agency (NDA). This agency would be tasked with collecting data that all other agencies collect and produce, and making it available in a central place and in electronic, machine-readable form. There could and should be a reasonable data presentation on its website, perhaps even a National Data Dashboard (showing data of interest like debt, spending, jobless rate, etc.). But the bulk of data analysis would be left to third parties: analysts, journalists, citizens (and also aliens like me). Easily available data would make for more insightful reporting, more informed decisions, and endless business opportunities." -Robert Kosara

This makes sense.

There simply is too much data to absorb, explore, analyze, understand, and act upon. It is difficult to know if you have all of the data that you need, because some of it is difficult to access. It doesn't matter if you are a banker, a stock broker, a CEO, a CFO, a government leader, an economist, a shareholder, or a student. The current state of world economic affairs is the strongest evidence that our methods simply aren't working.

The work of Hans Gosling provides a good example of how information visualization can help increase our understanding of large quantities of data over time. Hans Gosling is a Swedish professor of development and one of the founders of Gapminder. ("Unveiling the beauty of statistics for a fact-based world view".)

The following video is Rosling's latest presentation, focused on debunking the myths regarding population growth:


What stops population growth? from Gapminder Foundation on Vimeo.

"Gapminder is a non-profit venture promoting sustainable global development and achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals by increased use and understanding of statistics and other information about social, economic and environmental development at local, national and global levels. We are a modern “museum” that helps making the world understandable, using Internet."


The visual representation of economic data, if done well, packs a powerful punch. To me, images form a kernel in my memory related to the messages conveyed, and when recalled, also bring up a range of related conceptual details. It is sort of like what happens when I hear the first few notes of a tune from the past.

This doesn't seem to be the case for me when thinking about related text, or even thinking about "boring" charts and graphs.


The world needs effective and efficient data and information analysis and interactive visualization tools in order to solve problems that are on such a colossal scale.

The use of collaborative gesture and multi-touch display systems for data and information visualization is something that I believe will support better methods of decision-making in a variety of fields. Now is the time for the interactive information visualization community and related disciplines such as interactive multimedia and HCI to assist in this effort.

Here are some thoughts:


  • Those who are coding gesture-based or multi-touch programs need to understand what sort of content people will explore, and make sure that applications provide flexibility in use.
  • Human-computer interaction specialists will need to continue the study a range of interfaces and interactions in order to determine what supports human cognition of larger amounts of data and information.
  • Creators of interactive multimedia content, web developers, and others will need to re-examine their work and think about ways their content can support new ways of thinking and problem-solving within the context of "surface" computing.
  • Computer Supported Cooperative Work researchers will need to figure out what needs to be in place so that information can be effectively shared and analyzed between pairs or teams of people, and how this information can best be communicated to others within a business, agency, or organization, as well as the public.
One of the challenges facing this effort is that few people have an in-depth understanding of what it will take to make it happen. We will need to take an inter-disciplinary effort requiring a much higher level of communication and collaboration between people not accustomed to working within this context.

We will also need to take a "big picture" approach.


Because of the world's economic crisis, I think that interactive information/data visualization applications should target the needs of people who are working to understand the crisis and who have the power to do something constructive about it. This can not happen if they rely on the models and data analysis techniques of our recent past.


At the same time, these tools should be available to the rest of us, via the Internet, so that we may do our part to move us forward.

Back Story:
I started keeping up with the current economic on a more serious level in October. I was becoming numb from information overload. My knowledge about the economic and financial fields was lacking, so I decided to create a blog that I entitled "Economic Sounds and Sights" as my personal on-line repository of searchable content.

The blog has lots of pictures, info-graphics, embedded video clips, and links to a wide range of web-based resources. In my quest for information, I came across interesting quotes, jokes about economists, and tales of greed and scandals. I even found one blogger who has responded to each unfolding event of our economic crisis by re-writing lyrics to popular tunes.

For an example of one of my posts, read
"Celestial Economic Sphere, Data Viz for the Finance Biz..." It is my hope that the content I've collected and shared on the blog will become part of an interactive information visualization/timeline designed to support two or more people on a large display or table.

11/4/09: Update: The economic crisis got a bit complicated, so I stopped posting. The blog still remains on-line.  Interactive Infoviz for the Health Care Biz will be the topic of an upcoming post.


RELATED

Three Mirrors of Interaction: A Holistic Approach to User Interfaces (Bill Buxton)
Andreas Nicolas Fischer (Berlin-based artist who works with data, sculpture, and code.)
Google Spreadsheets Data Visualization Gadgets
Google Motion Chart (like Gapminder)
Panopticon
Death and Taxes (Wallstats.Com: The Art of Information)
2009 Index of Economic Freedom (Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation)
Visual Business Intelligence Stephen Few's Blog
Sunlight Foundation
Transparency Timeline - A History of Congressional Public Access Reform
"The Sunlight Foundation is committed to helping citizens, bloggers and journalists be their own best congressional watchdogs, by improving access to existing information and digitizing new information, and by creating new tools and Web sites to enable all of us to collaborate in fostering greater transparency."

MapLight.org "Money and Politics: Illuminating the Connection"

Free Our Data Blog (Guardian Technology campaign for free public access to data about the UK and its citizens)
2009 Death and Taxes Interactive Graphic (Click to explore.)



Via Stephen Few: Example of Horizon Graphs, developed by Panopticon. (Year's worth of prices of 50 stocks in 2005 and comparisons between them, click to enlarge)

Mark Lombardi
Take the time to listen to NPR's Lynn Neary's interview with Robert Hobbs, curator of the an exhibit of the late Lombardi's "conspiracy" art/visualizations linking global finance and international terrorism. Lombardi's background as an archivist and reference librarian served him well in his art depicting interesting large-scale networks. Although his art was not interactive, his techniques have inspired the development of computer-based interactive information visualizations.

FYI:
To satisfy my curiosity about Mark Lombardi, I followed a link to "Obsessive-Generous": Toward a Diagram of Mark Lombardi, by Frances Richard, posted in the 2001-02 section of the WBURG website.

The examples below are of Lombardi's work connecting the relationships between George W. Bush, Harken Energy, and Jackson Stephens:



George W. Bush, Harken Energy and Jackson Stephens
c. 1979-90, 5th Version
1999

Enlarged Version


Close-up of network detail



(missing)
Close up depicting a profit made by Bush, 2 weeks before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait
via Frances Richard

"...though he possessed the instincts of a private eye and the acumen of a systems-analyst, Lombardi was of course an artist, and from the raw material of wire-service reports and books by political correspondents, he drew not only chronicles of covert, high-stakes trade, but technically pristine and sensually compelling visual forms"-Frances Richard


Update:
Lombardi's Narrative Structures and Other Mappings of Power Relations
Fosco Lucarelli, SOCKS, 8/22/13

Learning from Lombardi
Ben Fry, 9/2009

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