The internet saved our culture of writing, it has often been claimed. The image saturation caused by television had, in this narrative, reached dangerous levels by the mid 1990s. Enter the commercial internet with email and the web. At the latest with web 2.0, everyone is writing all the time. Hurrah!
People like David McCandless bring a fresh approach to question this now received wisdom. By visualising data instead of just referring to them in text, modern infographics can be more enlightening than acres of text, not less:
I’ve spent the last year exploring the potential of information visualisation for my website and a book. I’ve taken loads of information and made it into simple, colourful and, hopefully, beautiful “visualisations” – bubble charts, concept maps, blueprints and diagrams – all with the minimum of text. I don’t just mean data and statistics. I love doing this with all kinds of information – ideas, issues, stories – and for all subjects from pop to philosophy to politics. Personally, I find visualisations great for helping me understand the world and for sifting the huge amounts of information that deluge me every day.
More of his visualisations can be enjoyed at his Flickr page.
Information and data visualisation has come to seem increasingly important to me as I in the past few months have spent a lot of time on the topic of opening up data in government (project blog in Norwegian). Clearly, it’s possible to do harm with data, as it is with all kinds of information. But the solution in an open society cannot be to lock down government data. That’s why it’s so important to have an ongoing discussion about how data can be used to promote better understanding of society, like McCandless does with his infographics. That he helps to improve journalism at the same time, isn’t actually a drawback these days.