Humanizing Data

Data inundates us every day, but most data is hard to consume as it is hard to see how it relates to our human side.  Jer Thorp provides us an awesome visual tour (watch the video below) of how data can be better visualized to make sense to us. This is the space that intersects art, science and design – the magic place for innovation and inspiration. Jer’s visualizations are exciting because they are graphically vivid while bringing real clarity and human meaning to the data. Jer has made much of his source code freely available.

In conjunction with Mark Hansen, Jer worked on a project dealing with content sharing on the Internet called Cascade. They created an exploratory tool that shows the sharing structures of the Internet. In essence, Cascade creates histories or stories of how information moves from person to person – how we connect. In another example project, called openpaths, Jer uses location data (human mobility data) from iPhones (strictly voluntary) to show how people’s lives are unfolding from the traces left behind on their devices. Jer shares parts of his own life using the tool. He demonstrates that by seeing our data in our life context, we develop empathy and fundamental respect for the other people involved in these systems.

Another example of humanized data visualization comes from Jonathan Harris who has a site that has been online since 2005, called We Feel Fine. The site captures human feelings from the Web. It searches blogs for key words relating to feelings and identifies the feeling (e.g. sad, happy, depressed). It also captures demographic data about the author. The interface shows feelings as particles. The particles’ properties (e.g., color, size, shape, opacity) indicate the nature of the feeling, and any particle can be clicked to reveal the full sentence or photograph it contains. The feelings can be searched and sorted, expressing various pictures of human emotion.

As this relates to healthcare, informatics comes to mind. It would be a really humanizing experience if I could see my health information in a rich but easy to understand and meaningful format. How I see myself (from a data visualization perspective) will have tremendous impact on how I deal with my healthcare. Coupling my personal health information with my life story and how I interconnect with people is an exciting concept. In this age of information overload, how we join our human experiences (our stories) to our data will be the extent to which we can understand the complexity of ourselves and our world.

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