Martin Wattenberg’s advice to me

Tonight I went to see Martin Wattenberg (from IBM’s Visual Communication Lab) talk about visualizing the patterns in Wikipedia edit histories (see history flow and chromogram). It was very fun, very interesting, and makes me think it’s possible to have a job that feels like play.

Afterwards I asked Martin if he had any advice for me, as I’m about to embark on my Masters thesis work, which is really just a big visualization project devoted to looking at people’s music collections. I was wondering what kinds of coding tools he’d recommend. (All of his Wikipedia visualizations were built in Java.) He said, “You’ve got one big question to answer first… Do you want to put this on the web, or not?” If I want it on the web, he says, go Flash; if not, try Processing. And he strongly suggested making it for the web, because that creates the possibility for an instant community and lets the project take on a life of its own.

Thursday, November 15, 7-9 pm

Visualizing Wikipedia: A tale of life, love, and bureaucracy
Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda Viegas (in spirit) , IBM Visual Communication Lab

Abstract: We report on Wikipedia’s evolution from a curiosity to a point of first
reference for millions. Applying data visualization techniques to
Wikipedia’s historical archives uncovers a story in three acts: life, love,
and bureaucracy. “Life” refers to the impressive ability of Wikipedia to
heal itself after vandalism and errors. “Love” is reflected in the
overwhelming scale of individual production and the passion shown by devoted
editors. And bureaucracy–an unexpected aspect of a free-spirited
community–is becoming prevalent as the site scales, with emerging
formalized processes and roles that help ensure quality.

November 16, 2007. academics, information visualization, MIT, patterns. 3 Comments.


  1. brent replied:

    Seems like good advice. You may want to check out Flex. It’s also from macromedia/adobe, but a real open source license and event driven, rather than timeline driven like Flash. And have you seen Flare?

    I’d disagree on one statement. Web doesn’t make for an instant community. You have to work at it, and you have to build it right. There are a lot of lonely projects on the web, and as more and more social systems come online, the pool of potential participants is stretched thinner.

    November 16th, 2007 at 11:24 am. Permalink.

  2. Anita replied:

    Right, Brent. I’ve worded it incorrectly – Martin wasn’t suggesting that the communities are instant, but rather than the possibility for an instant community is there, and that this has tremendous value. (I’ve updated the post accordingly.)

    November 16th, 2007 at 11:47 am. Permalink.

  3. Anita replied:

    Ah yes, another interesting follow-up… I just saw Jeff Heer talk at CSAIL, and he was plugging Flare as well. Looks like they have some good videos of what it can do on the website.

    November 16th, 2007 at 3:55 pm. Permalink.

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