Tuesday, September 4

Data visualisation: What does guilt look like?

In an age of information overload, a picture carries a thousand words - or stats. From around the net, political artists, environmentally savvy companies and concerned individuals are all making a statement, without uttering a word.

Hotmapping combines thermal imaging flyovers with residential mapping to uncover the highest energy hogs in any area. They recently completed a massive, 30 sq km section for Haringey in the UK, then posted it online, shaming the homeowners of those hot red dots on the map.

Radley Balko (stats) and Lee Laslo (programming) teamed up to reveal a pattern behind the numbers. Piecing together dozens of "isolated" botched police raids, the duo pinned them on a Google Map, complete with a key detailing items like "Death of an innocent", and case-by-case stories linked to local press articles. It's a textbook example of web 2.0 connectedness used for an incisive statement - stats+mapping+news articles - putting hyped but superficial initiatives like Twitter to shame.

Brazilian artist Icaro Doria takes national flags and rethinks them, mapping the area of a certain colour to damning statistics. Burkina Faso's tiny gold star becomes the percentage of children who actually reach maturity. Columbia's dominant yellow stripe representing it's cocaine production overshadows smaller crops like coffee and bananas. At best the stats are simplified. The EU's drastic oil production/consumption ratio is the result of many factors, many of which aren't necessarily negative. At worst, they're exaggerated or false - Somalia's shocking genital mutilation statistic would be difficult to get hard figures on.

Finally, Google's default inclusion of Darfur into it's Google Earth product is an overt political statement. It's 3d engine typically used to show corporate skyscrapers or monuments visualises something much more disturbing - tall purple towers representing numbers of displaced and wounded in the african nation.

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