Oct 24, 2009

VisWeek 2009: Information Visualization in a 2.0 World

I've been too busy this year to attend conferences, so sadly, I missed the IEEE VisWeek 2009 conference that was held in October in Atlantic City, NJ.  The VisWeek program included members of three related IEEE groups,  IEEE Information Visualization (InfoVis),  IEEE Visual Analytics Science and Technology (VAST), and IEEE Visualization (Vis).  

I was hoping to include a range of videos and graphics in this post, but  decided that it would be best if I devoted a few future posts to information visualization when I had time to select the best digital representations of this vibrant and exciting field.  

I've organized this post by presenting descriptions of the three IEEE groups that participated in the VisWeek conference, and then highlighting the various panels, workshops, tutorials, and paper presentations that I would have attended.   There were many more topics that caught my attention than I have time to share in this post.  I promise to dig deeper and include stories about  about the people behind the data and information, along with their work, in future posts
The descriptions below were taken from the Vis 09 website:
IEEE InfoVis
"Computer-based information visualization centers around helping people explore or explain abstract data through interactive software that exploits the capabilities of the human perceptual system. A key challenge in information visualization is designing cognitively useful spatial mappings of abstract datasets that are not inherently spatial, and accompanying the mappings with interaction techniques that allow people to intuitively explore the data. Information visualization draws on the intellectual history of several traditions, including computer graphics, human-computer interaction, cognitive psychology, semiotics, graphic design, statistical graphics, cartography, and art. The synthesis of relevant ideas from these fields with new methodologies and techniques made possible by interactive computation are critical for helping people keep pace with the torrents of information confronting them."

"IEEE VAST is the science of analytical reasoning supported by highly interactive visual interfaces. People use visual analytics tools and techniques to synthesize information into knowledge; derive insight from massive, dynamic, and often conflicting data; detect the expected and discover the unexpected; provide timely, defensible, and understandable assessments; and communicate assessments effectively for action."
"Visual Analytics requires interdisciplinary science, going beyond traditional scientific and information visualization to include statistics, mathematics, knowledge representation, management and discovery technologies, cognitive and perceptual sciences, decision sciences, and more. Your submission should help develop and/or apply the science of Visual Analytics, clearly showing an interdisciplinary approach."
"IEEE Vis is the premier forum for visualization advances in science and engineering for academia, government, and industry. This event brings together researchers and practitioners with a shared interest in techniques, tools, and technology. The year 2009 marks the20th anniversary of IEEE Vis and it will celebrate the maturation of visualization into an established scientific discipline."

Here are the workshops, panels, and paper presentations I would have attended if I was at the VisWeek conference: 
Changing the World with Visualization
Organizer: Robert Kosara
 Sarah Cohen, Jerome Cukier,  Marten Wattenberg
"With large amounts of data becoming available, and being accessible more easily,  visualization has to step in to provide means to explore and understand that data.  How can we enable people to explore the data that is of importance to them?  how can we present data in a way that is not detached, but rather prompts a reaction (but yet does not distort the data)? How can visualization change the world (and what good is it if it cannot)?  And how do we do all that so it still has academic value?"
(Note: Robert Kosara was my Info Visualization and Visual Communication professor at UNC-Charlotte.  He is the author of the Eager Eyes website and blog. He has great links related to his passions.)
Putting Visualization on the Web
Organizers:  Robert Kosara, Nathan Yau, Andrew Van de Moere
"The World Wide Web is a primary source of information for many people, but not everything that can be found online when searching for "visualization" would be recognized as such by VisWeek attendees.  there is clearly a place for data art, information graphics, mash-ups, etc. -- but what is generally considered the core for visualization research (or visual analytics, for that matter) seems underrepresented.  And while it is not difficult to find images of many techniques, there is little material that explains, demonstrates, compares, and critiques them. All this is even more true for scientific visualization than for information visualization.  To reach more people in the real world, we need to understand the mechanisms for disseminating knowledge outside of the conference or journal paper. A few examples exist where academic visualization research has become successfully poipularized, e.g., TreeMaps, ThemeRiver (used in last.fm), StreamGraphs (a well-received New York Times chart of box office revenues).  More examples like these are clearly needed, as is more open and accessible information from the people in the field.  A blog or website is not just a place for dispensing wisdom, it can provide a platform for experiments and interaction.  It also makes it possible to get feedback from readers about real-world problems that might be tackled in research projects.  And it can even become the subject of research;  Many Eyes is a wonderful example of this.  The proposed workshop will give participants the opportunity to learn about experiences, get hints, and discuss issues.  Such issues include academic blogging (talk about research before it is published?),  finding an audience,  promoting a site, etc.  The goal of the workshop is to collect ideas and best practices, and to come up with useful solutions to problems posed."
Comment: The topics covered in the two workshop listed above interest me, since I get so much information from the web, and I particularly enjoy taking in information visually, especially if it conveys meaning in an efficient, elegant way.  In my opinion, web-based information "social" information visualization has the potential to embed the human story behind the numbers, trends, and factoids that bombard us every day.   This is not simply "information overload".  It is information numbness.   As consequence, it is sometimes difficult for us to tell the difference between what is important or essential, what is true, and what is not.   
VisWeek Workshop: Video Analytics
Organizers:  Nancy Chinchor, William Ribarsky, Michael Christel
"The workshop will focus on tools for analyzing videos whose content ranges from persuasive videos (ads, propaganda, news) to YouTube videos. The purpose of video analysis is to gain insight into the contents of large collections of video and to focus detailed analysis on a smaller set of videos out of that collection. The capability to explore, categorize, and annotate videos is required by multiple types of analysts. User interfaces and techniques that support these activities including techniques in image processing are all central concerns of this workshop. However, the workshop goes beyond retrieval of images to interacting with a large video collection that one may have received from a query." 
(Note:  Dr. Ribarsky is the director of the Charlotte Visualization Center.  "The VisCenter leads the latter effort through the development of the Renaissance Situation Room, located in the VisCenter, which includes a multi-touch table, tiled display, immersive stereoscopic environment, and integrated interaction for all these tools. New interactive visualizations of the urban growth model and related models are displayed and used within this environment.RENCI at UNCC )
I thought this would be an interesting workshop, because as a school psychologist, I use digital video in my work with students who have special needs, including severe autism.  As a consequence, I have an assortment of digital video files to analyse, organize, and retrieve. I need some tools to help me do this in an efficient and meaningful way.  I work with a team of people, and making this information easy for my colleagues to access and share would be important to me.
Collaborative Visualization on Interactive Surfaces (CoVIS)
Organizers: Petra Isenberg, Michael Sedlmair, Dominikus Baur, Tobias Isenberg, Andreas Butz
"It is common for small groups of people to gather around visual displays of information to discuss or interpret the information to form decisions.  Groups can share the task load of exploring large and complex datasets and can share various interpretations of a dataset when working together.  However, tools to support synchronous collaboration between several people in their data analysis are still relatively scarce.  Traditionally,  visualization and visual analytics tools have been designed from a single-user perspective and for desktop computers.  While hardware such as multi-touch displays and network capabilities have emerged that lend themselves especially well to collaboration, software support for collaboration around visualizations is still relatively scarce.  One of the reasons is that single user systems do not necessarily translate well to collaborative scenarios or interactive surfaces and require specific re-design.  The design of digital systems, therefore, poses additional challenges:  we need to understand (a) how people collaboratively work with visual representations of data and which methods they use to solve information analysis tasks as a team, and (b) what the exact design requirements are for collaborative visual analysis scenarios.  In this workshop we would like to discuss these challenges and discuss the role of interactive surfaces as an emerging technology for supporting collaborative visualization and visual analytics settings."
If I was at VisWeek, I'd attend this workshop because I've been thinking about topic for a while. One idea I've been toying with is the concept of sharable data widgets that people could use at the table to do real-time data analysis, as well as capture real-time data from external sources (such as information from outdoor videocams, motion sensors, etc.), and data sent from colleagues who are remotely located.  This would allow people to work collaboratively as a group, but also provide a means to distribute some of the data analysis tasks during the session.  
VizWeek Tutorial:  Exploring Design Decisions for Effective Information Visualization
Organizers: Jo Wood, Jason Dykes, Aldan Slingsby
"This tutorial provides an opportunity for participants to design their own information visualization of some sample datasets. Using interactive software and data provided by the instructors, issues of color, layout, symbolization and animation are explored. Results from participants’ visualizations are compared along with those from the presenters allowing insights into the data and good practice in information visualization design to be gained. Participants should be equipped with their own laptop capable of running Java applications. Prior to the session participants are strongly encouraged to download the free software and data that will be used in the tutorial. The tutorial is suitable for anyone working with complex datasets who wishes to improve their data visualization design skills, in particular designing visualization solutions that match the research questions asked and the data to be analyzed."

This workshop caught my eye because it provides an opportunity to participate in hands-on visualization activities.   There are plenty of free educational, mental health, and public health data sets that I'd like to play around with, if I had the time and the tools!
VAST Capstone Panel: How Interactive Visualization Can Assist Investigative Analysis:  Views and Perspectives from Domain Experts
Organizer:  John Stasko
Panelists:  Sarah Cohen, Lawrence Hunter, Joe Parry
"Interactive visualization could become an essential tool in the work of investigative analysts.  Visualization could help analysts to explore large collections of data and documents, supporting the analysts' investigative sense-making processes.  This panel gathers recognized leaders  from three important domains,  investigative reporting, biosciences (genomics), and intelligence analysis, all that include a fundamental investigative analysis component.  The panelists will provide a glimpse into their worlds, describing and illustrating the data they examine, the goals and methods of their analysts, and the culture of their respective professions.  In particular, the panelists will explore how visualization could potentially benefit investigators from their domain and they will provide guidance for visualization researchers seeking to collaborate with their colleagues."
I think that the topics covered by this panel are important.  Much of the important work that needs to be done by computer scientists and related technologists is interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary.   More disciplines rely on technology than ever before, and this is not limited to academia.    In my opinion,  I think the research and statistics courses that are mandatory for most graduate students should also include content related to information and data visualization related to the domain.  Often these research and statistics courses are taught by domain experts who also specialize in research and statistics. Why not take it to the next level?!
The IEEE Visualization & Graphics Community website has links to most of the VisWeek 2009 conference abstracts.  There are some videos and slides available on-line.  Here are a few more topics that I thought were interesting:
FinVis: Applied Visual Analytics for Personal Financial Planning (pdf)

Stephen Rudolph, Anya C. Savikhin, David S. Ebert,  Purdue University
Connecting the Dots in Visual Analysis (pdf)
Yedendra B. Shrinivasan, Eindhoven University of Technology;  David Goetz, Jie Lu, IBM Research 

Tarik Crnovrsanin, Chris Muelder, Carlos Correa, Kwan-Liu Ma, University of California, Davis
Visual Analysis of Graphs with Multiple Connected Components (pdf)
T. von Landesberger, M.Gorner, T. Schreck,  Technische Universitat Darmstadt
I'm marking my calendar and hoping I'll have the opportunity to attend the 2010 conference:
IEEE VisWeek 2010
Salt Lake City, Utah
October 24-29, 2010

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