What is Visual Data Analysis?

Visual data analysis blends highly advanced computational methods with sophisticated graphics engines to tap the extraordinary ability of humans to see patterns and structure in even the most complex visual presentations. Currently applied to massive, heterogeneous, and dynamic datasets, such as those generated in studies of astrophysical, fluidic, biological, and other complex processes, the techniques have become sophisticated enough to allow the interactive manipulation of variables in real time. Ultra high-resolution displays allow teams of researchers to zoom into interesting aspects of the renderings, or to navigate along interesting visual pathways, following their intuitions and even hunches to see where they may lead. New research is now beginning to apply these sorts of tools to the social sciences as well, and the techniques offer considerable promise in helping us understand complex social processes like learning, political and organizational change, and the diffusion of knowledge.

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Please "sign" your contributions by marking with the code of 4 tildes (~) in a row so that we can follow up with you if we need additional information or leads to examples- this produces a signature when the page is updated, like this: - alan alan Jan 27, 2010

(1) How might this technology be relevant to the museums you know best?

  • Am curious why more museums (including my own) don't make better use of Visualizations to help people know / understand the nature of collections! Seems like a low hanging fruit that could make a significant impact on how users can "browse" massive online collections. Current online collections support search very well, but don't offer much in the way of a browsing shopping experience. Visualizations can help users understand the time distribution and relations between the works in our collection, when coupled with mapping applications could automagically generate something like the Timeline of Art History for any collection. Would also be a useful tool for curators to understand the nature and "gaps" in collecting areas to tell stories about art history in our local collections. - rob.stein rob.stein Apr 30, 2010 Couldn't sum this up any better than Rob, so I'll just say 'right on' here. - Koven Koven May 3, 2010 - ninmah ninmah May 5, 2010
  • +1 to what Rob says. Thesauri in use or implicit in our collections management systems structures would easily support anything from simple tree structures to complex networks of relationships between things, and then there are the facets of this data along agent/place/time dimensions that would all support interesting visualisations.
    Each museum will of course also have their own very individual repositories of research data, too, which can be quite indigestible in naked form but which, with intelligent use of visualisations, might be suited to educational purposes as well as other researchers.
    One other use of the tech is for museums' own analytical purposes, to understand how their digital media are having an impact. Google Analytics and the like offer a lot here, but there are sets of data around the edge of our activities that don't yet have good visualisations (for example, our presence in Twitter and other social media) - jeremy.ottevanger jeremy.ottevanger May 1, 2010
  • I'm sure many of us would welcome a trend towards museums using visual data analysis. Specifically, I would like to see visual means for providing better access to our collections. Now that many of us have large numbers of our artworks accessible online, it's a struggle to determine effective mechanisms to categorize and 'illustrate' the collection to provide intriguing entry points. The data is there, but there needs to be a commitment to the time and skill (it's not easy!) required to convert great amounts of data into seemingly simple intuitive visualizations of that information. - liz.neely liz.neely May 2, 2010
  • As noted above, this has application both internally to help museum staff identify needs and make decisions, and externally to help people browse, search and understand collections and other museum content. Visualizations are often very effective ways for conveying complex data and relationships that are otherwise more challenging to describe. - allegra.burnette allegra.burnette May 4, 2010

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • One of the reasons that humanities collections in general are hard to visualize is the extremely multivariate nature for browsing. Lots of work on multi-variate visualization techniques has been done in the information visualization field (see InfoVis conference proceedings from IEEE) Techniques like parallel coordinates, multi-scatter plot brushing, and/or variations of treemaps might offer good approaches. - rob.stein rob.stein Apr 30, 2010
  • Applications of image processing or content based image retrieval (CBIR) will provide good methods of visual search and browsing... these techniques are now commonly being used to drive online shopping applications and a visual "more like this" interface for ecommerce... I think that museums can make effective use of this technique to provide a browsing experience for objects without adequate meta-data catalogging. - rob.stein rob.stein Apr 30, 2010
  • my main question is around who does this, where and with what tools. There are tools on the web, but others are installed apps. Are the web alternatives missing much, and can the installed tools output to the web? As for who, clearly museums can develop the skills required to use such tools if necessary (and to identify suitable sets of data), so perhaps the first thing we should expect to see is more use of visualisation tools by museums themselves, but how facilitating their use by educationalists? Are there ways we can enable them to create visualisations with our data using online tools? Can we expect schools to have any such tools installed themselves over the next few years, and if so should we be preparing datasets aimed at use within these? If now, will we have to send teachers/students off to make a ManyEyes account or is there server software we can install to let them create visualisations on our own websites? At the moment the barriers seem pretty high because of the learning curve and the fact that the tools and the data aren't where the people may be, so it's quite a task to bring them all together, on the web, with good ideas for what to do with them.- jeremy.ottevanger jeremy.ottevanger May 1, 2010
  • PS but beware http://www.flickr.com/photos/philgyford/4505748943/sizes/o/ - jeremy.ottevanger jeremy.ottevanger May 1, 2010 This is awesome! Love it - ninmah ninmah May 5, 2010
  • PPS here's a link that's pertinent to my questions above: http://blog.blprnt.com/blog/blprnt/your-random-numbers-getting-started-with-processing-and-data-visualization

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on education and interpretation in museums?

  • Sentiment analysis and language parsing of terms/concepts received via social media channels or other public forums, when coupled with information visualization, represent a huge opportunity to examine public/visitor response to artwork over time, geography, or other vectors. Visualization could potentially assist educators and curators with attenuating their programs to visitor needs by helping them detect patterns in user behavior obtained via these public channels.- Koven Koven May 3, 2010
  • another response here

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

I can't seem to find a specific paper or online example to point to, but no one is doing more with visualization of museum data than Piotr Adamczyk. An accounting of recent projects can be found here (http://sites.google.com/site/pdadamczyk/), but someone else may know of other projects of his that are more visible/relevant.- Koven Koven May 3, 2010
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