Information Visualization for Knowledge Discovery

Okay, so I’ve been gone for a bit. Busy! I started last week as the science & social science data librarian at Yale University.  It’s been amazing so far, but that’s not what this post is about (though it is what makes this post possible).

Yesterday afternoon colleagues and I got to attend the C2 computer science lecture by Ben Shneiderman. His topic was “Information Visualization for Knowledge Discovery” and it was just an hour long, but I we could have made a day out of it. I’m still processing a lot of what he presented and it’s been a while, actually, since I’ve really thought about information visualization.

Main points:

The Human Computer Interaction Lab at UMD was founded in 1983. That makes it older than me. It’s always useful for me to put that in perspective — this new, exciting stuff that’s changing the way we interact with information and gain knowledge has its roots in decades of research and dedicated people who have been working on this longer than I’ve been alive.

TimeSearcher, a tool for visualizing long time-series data, is available for free from UMD.  I’d love to play with this. Let’s hope a researcher comes to me needing help!

Treemaps are still awesome. I remember I was in high school the first time I used one to visualize my hard drive usage. I’ve seen them all over lately, but I didn’t realize they were the work of the HCIL!

NodeXL is a very exciting development! It’s a plugin for Excel that lets you visualize networks. Network visualization is complex (understatement?), but the fine people at UMD don’t stop at finding ways for researchers with lots of money to be able to do it — they want you to be able to do it, too. There are options for automatically sucking down data from Twitter, Flickr, etc. so you don’t have to mess with APIs. I haven’t even downloaded it yet and it makes me regret that my day today is filled with exciting meetings so I probably won’t get a chance to until later, but I’m excited. It’s like Christmas. I can’t wait to unwrap my NodeXL. There’s also a book, Analyzing Social Media Networks with NodeXL, written by Ben and colleagues. I checked and Yale does have the ebook!

The Social Media Research Foundation has been generously funded by Microsoft Research (yay MSR!) but they’re looking to find other sources of funding and maybe become their own entity.

Ben made a great point when he said, “Visualization gives you a clue about a query you might pose.” I think that really sums up the “knowledge exploration” aspect of visualization and how it capitalizes on our ability to literally see patterns and become curious about those patterns.

His best point was when he linked to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals and reminded us that those are what we’re working for by finding new ways to interact with information and get insight.

He encouraged us to attend HCIL’s 28th Annual Symposium. My summer is completely booked up, but I look forward to the tweets!

Written by Michelle Hudson

Michelle Hudson is a science & social science data librarian at Yale University's Center for Science and Social Science Information.