Monday, August 13, 2012

Vizualization Tools

Many thanks to my friend Gerard -- a librarian and a geographer -- for the article 9 Data Visualization Tools for Librarians and Educators (never mind that librarians are educators). Appearing on the blog of the Online Education Database (OEDb), this recent article is a gateway to nine web sites that provide a number of easy ways to create online visual representations of data. Speed and ease are two common threads, along with great variety and reasonably strong design qualities.

The word cloud above is an example of both speed and ease -- the result of lazily accepting the defaults on a tool called Tagxedo and applying it to this very blog. The result prioritizes some words that recur frequently but are not related to content -- such as my own name and the menu choices that appear on every post (blog, facebook, comments). Just as I wrote this paragraph, I tried the software again, with the intention of seeing whether I could suppress some of the common words. I did not find a way to do that, but the random variation within the algorithm did reduce some of them, generating this more pleasing cloud:
Both clouds do help the reader to learn -- at a glance -- something about this blog.

The "9 Tools" article is not just about word clouds, though. It points to nine different sites, including some tat allow users to create maps, so it will keep me busy for some while.

For expert guidance on envisioning information, I refer readers to Edward Tufte, who has written several beautiful books on the subject. For beginners, I recommend his essay, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint,  available for $7 postpaid. Nobody should teach without having read this essay!

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