Visualization as I see it.

Category Archives: maps

Map of Global Transportation Networks & The Anthropocene

Environmental education organization, Globaïa, have prepared two interesting visualizations.

The first is a map of global transportation networks that shows traffic routes by road, air and sea converging on major urban areas.

The second is a collection of charts showing a variety of measures of global human activity.  All exhibit a more-or-less exponential growth pattern.

Tweets During the Japanese Earthquake

Twitter has just published a couple of videos that visualize the flow of tweets before and after the March 2011 earthquake.

The first video shows @reply tweets in the hour preceding and following the earthquake, to (pink) and from (yellow) Japanese Twitter accounts.  You can clearly see the sudden jump in the volume of tweets following the earthquake.


The second video shows tweets originating in Japan (red) and then being retweeted (green) around the globe in the hour following the earthquake.

Twitter reports that the volume of tweets spiked to 5000 tweets per second five times in the hours following the earthquake and tsunami.  A vivid example of Twitter’s reach as a global communications tool.

Pervasive Visualization

Today I came across an interesting blog post listing 21 Everyday Visualizations.  As the title suggests the article lists 21 objects we encounter in everyday life that graphically encode information.  The article reminded me that visualization is pervasive; it’s not confined to the digital realm.

The objects identified include calendars, weather maps, traffic lights and scales.  The objects represent a fairly small set of visualization primitives:

  • maps
  • icons
  • gauges
  • dials
  • histograms
  • pie charts

For the full list visit the Epic. Graph blog.  If you can think of any other commonplace visualizations then please suggest them to Mark (the Epic. Graph blogger).  I’ve suggested the financial indicators used in business news (TV, print, web) to indicate daily movements in stocks, indices, exchange rates, commodity prices etc.

Great Linux World Map

As a visualization and Linux enthusiast I couldn’t resist drawing attention to The Great Linux World Map published on the Dedoimedo blog.  All the main distros are represented with lots of Linux puns and in-jokes.

It reminded me of the maps of Online Communities Randall Munroe has published over the years on his XKCD web comic.  Just as Munroe has had to update his maps as the Internet landscape has evolved so too we can look forward to future renditions of the Linux World Map in keeping with the tectonic changes afoot.

GOCE Reveals Gravity Map, ESA Conceals It

The ESA has just announced that their GOCE satellite has collected enough data “to map the Earth’s gravity with unrivalled precision”.  Accompanying the press release was the animation (shown above) of the “geoid” model derived from the new data set.

Unfortunately, the animation lacks the most fundamental feature required of all visualizations: a key to help us make sense of what it actually shows!

The text accompanying the animation sheds a little light on the visualization:

The geoid is the surface of an ideal global ocean in the absence of tides and currents, shaped only by gravity.

If I were to hazard a guess, I’d suggest that the visualization shows the earth’s crust, with a height field and colour map applied to it.  The latter two possibly encode the strength of the gravitational field and/or the height of the idealized global ocean (the latter being derived from the former).

The point is I shouldn’t have to guess!  This important data deserves better treatment.

If you know what the visualization encodes then please leave a comment below.

[ Update: 8 April, 2011 ]

I had this quick response from the ESA regarding interpreting the Geoid visualization:

The colours in the image represent deviations in height (–100 m to +100 m) from an ideal geoid. The blue colours represent low values and the reds/yellows represent high values.

Mobile Phone Tracking Visualization

It is claimed that software freedom activist Richard Stallman famously doesn’t own a mobile phone, claiming they present serious privacy concerns.  Just how much information do mobile telephone companies obtain from their subscribers?  Quite a lot as it turns out.

German Green party politician Malte Spitze sued his mobile phone service provider Deutsche Telekom, who released to him six months worth of his mobile phone data.  Spitze then made this available to ZEIT ONLINE, who combined the geolocation data along with Spitze’s Twitter feed, blog postings and other publicly available online information to create an impressive tracker application.  The application visualizes Spitze’s movements, activities, phone and SMS messages and web-surfing for the six months from August 31, 2009 – February 28. 2010.

ZEIT ONLINE’s visualization reveals the wealth and fidelity of personal data that our mobile phone carriers collect and retain.  Spitze’s data set is also publicly available if you’d like to scrutinise it further or produce your own visualization.

Social Map: Placebook

I recently came across Social Map: Placebook, the 2010 winner of the NACIS: Student Web Mapping Competition.  The stated aim of Placebook is:

to give [a] more accurate idea on how are Facebook users [are] distributed around the world.

It’s an excellent application.  I found that the most powerful feature of Placebook was not the map but rather the additional graphics used to visualize social data.  You can choose to explore:

  • absolute counts of the number of users per country,
  • the proportion of users in each country with Facebook accounts, and
  • (structure) the distribution of Facebook users by age-group in each country.

Placebook includes controls for focusing on regions (World, Europe, North Americas, South Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania).  You can also sort the data to find interesting artefacts.  For example, I discovered that in Serbia & Montenegra a striking 77% of under-18 year olds have Facebook accounts; a significant outlier (Albania is a distant second at 30%).  The data was obtained in August 2010 using the “impact estimator” of Facebook’s advertising interface.

You can also login to your own Facebook account to visualize the demographics of your own social network.  However, I chose not to as it gives Placebook access to your personal information and that of your friends.

New York Times Visualization of the Japanese Earthquake Fault Plane

Visualization of the magnitude of the quake

Shortly after the devastating Japanese earthquake on March 18 2011, the New York Times published an excellent series of visualizations showing the quake’s fault plane, magnitude and the predicted tsunami spreading across the Pacific Ocean.

What I found particularly enlightening was the depiction of the fault plane.  I’d previously thought of earthquakes as emanating from a point source – the word epicentre reinforces this notion.  In fact, the earthquake arose from a section of the North American plate, several hundred miles in length, being thrust upwards by the movement of the Pacific plate beneath it.  The epicentre is the focus of the earthquake at which the force is greatest.

Kudos to the New York Times for their enlightening graphics.

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