visualization | MIT Center for Civic Media

Visualization tools offer new ways to inform and improve understanding. Showing data in relation to geography, the passage of time, and other contexts helps individuals and communities to prioritize and weigh the meaning of facts. Visualization can refer to mapping, locative media, visual data, or many other ways of showing data graphically.

Respecting the Data

Eyeo Festival logo

I was lucky enough to attend Eyeo Festival this year thanks to the Ford Foundation. There were many thought provoking and inspiring talks as well as conversations over Minneapolitan cuisine. One of the recurring themes I picked up on was how to respect data when doing data visualization, illustration, or art. This came up in different ways and under different names among speakers whom I saw talk. Furthermore there was tension and contradiction across the talks about the type of and level of respect due to data.

What Baboon Notebooks, Monads, State Surveillance, and Network Diagrams Have in Common: Bruno Latour at CHI 2013

I'm here at CHI 2013, a human computer interaction conference, for the third and final keynote, the sociologist of science and anthropologist Bruno Latour, on the topic, "From aggregation to navigation, a few challenges to social theory."

Bruno Latour at CHI2013
photo by @pstamara

Latour starts by explaining what he calls "the monadological principle," an alternative to the idea of collective phenomena. Latour offers "a strange argument," that "there is no collective phenomena... but there exist many collecting devices that generate collected phenomena." There is no upper level of collective experience or a lower level of individual experience. Instead, he argues, we aggregate experiences into something that we we call collective experience.

Guns, Wars and Terrorism in a real size PageOneX (photo essay)

I finally installed the PageOneX real size project with stories related to guns, wars and terrorism. Come visit the display this week to the second floor of building E14 at MIT Media Lab. Thanks all of you that helped in this process!
What follows is a photographic guide to the PageOneX real size installation.
out-of-town-news_kioskYou’ll not find Washington Post or LA Times in Boston news stands. It’s so difficult to get the paper!

I would have never thought it was so difficult to get the paper


It was one of those ideas that seemed easy: to build a real size 1:1 scale of a PageOneX analysis. I just needed to buy 4 newspapers during 4 weeks, highlight certain stories, and put them on the wall. However, as it usually happens, things are easier said that done.

Finding the newspapers


Tracking memes across television news: A tool for analyzing how stories move through broadcast

Too long, didn’t read: You can use this Ruby script to query’s recently-launched TVNews archive and download JSON files with the results. It’s great for tracking how frequently a person or topic shows up in U.S. televised news broadcasts.

(cross-posted at Nieman Journalism Lab)

Who wrote the news? Gender in the front page


The best way to show the last improvements in PageOneX's development is by using them. After lasts Ed's commits it is possible to draw as many rectangles as you need when coding a single front page, whereas before it was only possible to draw 2 rectangles per image.

The Case for Informal Visualization

Data visualization is all over the place. On the hype curve, we’re clearly up in the area of inflated expectations. If you listen to the reporting, you wouldn't be blamed for thinking dataviz is going to bring world peace! I’m writing to beat the drum in favor of more informal presentations.  You can tell better data stories, and engage your audience more, by creating less formal data presentations.

Some Examples

What do I mean by "informal visualization"?  To start, toss out your computer, printer and graph paper. Pull our your crayons, big paper, tape, and your imagination.

From top-left, clockwise: 

3 steps to measure the corruption coverage in Spain

Corruption coverage in Spanish newspapers

The fast-growing list of corruption investigations in Spain have involved almost every institution in the country: the major political parties, the royal house, the supreme court or the national bank, just to mention some of them. Everyday, new information and a new case is released/unveiled, provoking an increasing sense of indignation. It is also true that the levels of indignation have reached an apex, that they cause either incredulity or insensitivity.

Mapping the Globe

Mapping the Globe is an interactive tool and map that helps us understand where the Boston Globe directs its attention. Media attention matters–in quantity and quality. It helps determine what we talk about as a public and how we talk about it.


Newspaper front pages are a key source of data about our media ecology. Newsrooms spend massive time and effort deciding what stories make it to the front page. PageOneX makes coding and visualizing newspaper front page content much easier, democratizing access to newspaper attention data.