9.11.2007: inspiration from IBM’s Many Eyes project

This Q&A was a starting point for the first project in our graduate Studio course this semester (Fall 2007).

Identify and Respond: IBM’s Many Eyes project

  1. Select a designer, studio, or specific project that/who is already incorporating in some measure, even if small, design “co-creation” principles into their practice/message.
    IBM’s Many Eyes project, a website that helps people develop interactive visualizations for their data sets. The site itself is “the outcome of many inspiring collaborations and conversations,” involving designers, programmers, researchers and statisticians. It encourages people to come to the site to create an image for their set of data and to comment on others’ visualizations.
  2. How successful do you think the approach is at involving “the other” in design knowledge, production, output (outcome)? What are your terms for success
    The ‘other’ is very involved—IBM provides the framework but the ‘others’ generate the content using the system. Visitors supply data sets (or use someone else’s previously uploaded data set to see a demo) and then walk through the steps to create a visualization. The site talks one through the process, and provides tips and information.
  3. Where does the work sit on the expert/novice creation scale? Why?
    Despite its reliance on contributed content from “others,” Many Eyes still leans toward the designer end of the spectrum. There are a limited number of visualization types for participants to choose, and it is their data and the way they arrange it that makes it unique. However, the site attempts to teach or explain along the way, either directly while explaining proper formatting of data sets (“Don’t forget the units!”) or indirectly, by allowing individuals to manipulate the way the data is displayed. In this way, “others” can decide on the most effective arrangement for their display, compare and contrast diagram formats, and decide which items deserve emphasis. The FAQ also directs people to the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Federal Reserve to collect data if they don’t have any data sets of their own.
  4. Is the work transferable to other content?
    The visualizations can be exported to blogs, and they are all stored on the Many Eyes site where they could be accessed to use as teaching or presentation tools.
  5. Has the work pioneered new territory or is it building on cultivated ideas? What are those ideas?
    Certainly such software exists, but the commenting capabilities, public access, and urge to browse the site makes it different. Searching other contributors’ visualizations is interesting and engaging because they appeal to curiosity, knowledge and voyeurism. Because the site publishes the visualizations, it also fulfills the “see and be seen” element of co-creation.
  6. Is the work driven by rules of assertion (designer driving the bus) or emergence (social, democratic forces)?
    Yes, the designer drives the bus in terms of visualizations, but the visitors control the content. As seen in many other social sites, contributors feed off of each others’ ideas, so that there are distinct groups of related visualizations.
  7. If the work favors the “novice” end of our spectrum, how does the design function to promote and/or inspire participation?
    Visualizations and comments are instantly displayed, which makes visitors feel important (“I’m published!”) and gives a sense of instant [creative] gratification (“I made something!”). The bank of other peoples’ readily-available visualizations encourage one to peruse the site.
  8. To what extent does profit figure in the work’s success?
    Many Eyes seems like one of IBM’s beta-pets right now; I can’t really discern the business model or what it will be. There is currently no advertising on the site, and one can use it for free.
  9. What aspects of cultural production is the work exploiting? Opting not to include? Overlooking?
    Many Eyes overlooks the fact that others might have better or different visualization ideas than those on the site. It seems to be more focused on explaining data visually than fostering creative exploration. An improvement would be to provide for more advanced users to create custom visualizations or add new templates. Also, the site currently allows members to comment but not add notations directly on the visualizations, edit or change data, or merge/link related visualizations.
  10. How is “the other” represented (ala Stuart Hall, etc.)?
    Though the visualizations come from a set of designed options, each is unique because of the information provided by site participants. The site has two main functions: visualize your data set, and browse the bank of existing visualizations. The whole site depends on the participation of the “others.”
  11. What else do you observe?
    This site seems like a logical tool or connection to news media. It could be useful to integrate it with online newspapers and news network sites. Additionally, more could be done to teach people how to see patterns and interpret the visualizations on the site. More lessons about visual information could be incorporated, as well as different strategies to stimulate interaction with the creations on the site. Further customization would make the site and the individual iterations more interesting.

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