Monday, January 08, 2007

IBM's visualization practice

Over the last years a small team at IBM’s information visualization practice has done some extraordinary work that they are starting to share with a broader public ( Their work centers primarily around “Democratization of Visualization” for which they are building small visual software applications that can present any kind of data in an appealing manner (e.g. email communication, baby names). Its mission seems to focus on changing the paradigm of our analytical discourse: From an “Analytical Expert to Analytical Expert” exclusive sphere to a “Broad audience to broad audience” conversation, dialog, and community. It’s not just about changing the consumption side of the analytical work but the creation side, too. A broader audience should not just be able to read intuitively the results but participate in the creation of the analytical solution, too. The group calls it communication-minded visualization.

It’s interesting enough that IBM funds these kinds of projects without any immediate applicability to any of their businesses. I can only think of Google as the other key player that has realized the importance of this paradigm change and therefore actively invest in similar projects. Most other firms continue to ignore its importance and are definitely not willing to share any progress or projects with a broader public.

But before I get lost in the corporate politics and strategies of most Fortune 500 companies, let me try to decipher some learnings from the group’s public available publications, presentations, and interviews:
  • “Democratization of Visualization” is only successful if the borders of analytical work product and art object is vanishing. Especially Fernanda Viegas seems to stress the beauty of the created objects
  • If one creates an easy to use and intuitive graphic software application on top of public available data set, then one unleashes the curiosity of a large suddenly interested community. One can never predict which questions members of this community will ask or try to answer with the new application. The visual software application functions as an inspiring translator between an expanding group of users and the raw data.
  • Its concept of Communication minded stresses the three steps and related benefits of analytical visualization: Creation of the Visual Solution, Interpreting & Deciphering Insights, Sharing with Others. Only the successful integration of all three steps will ultimately lead to a democratized visual.

One can only hope that this IBM team continues to not only create outstanding projects but to share the underlying logic and applications with us. I am sure we will see much more over the next months and years.


Blogger Iain said...


Looking forward to hooking up on the 17th; in the meantime I took some time out to check out your blog. Very interesting views & perspectives and this particular thread was of immediate interest.


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