Data in Sight

Visualize This: Data in Sight

When the votes were tallied, five teams stood victorious. Each presented something radically different from the next. The social graph of characters in the Marvel Universe, world disasters over time, LinkedIn connections of academic authors, real-time cost and availability of parking, a snake of questions representing AOL search queries.

These were the winning projects at data in sight: making the transparent visual, a weekend hackathon co-organized by swissnex San Francisco, the Consulate General of the Netherlands, and Creative Commons. The competition took place over a weekend in June at the Adobe Systems offices in San Francisco and put some 100 designers, coders, programmers, and data enthusiasts together to create interactive visuals from open data for a discerning panel of judges at the top of the red hot field of data visualization.

 “This was one of the best hackathons I have ever attended,” said Adobe’s Keith Sutton.

IMG_4637 2Winners took home prizes including LinkedIn Pro Accounts, Adobe Creative Suite 5.5 Web Premium, credit for hip anti cab company Uber, Swiss-approved Nespresso PIXIE coffee machines, and much more. But that’s not entirely why participants came.

They showed up to take open data and give it new life. Maybe for the free pizza. On Friday evening, attendees got an introduction to data sets provided by Factual and Infochimps as well as analysis tools, and they networked with each other to find strengths and weaknesses within their teams. By Saturday morning many were well on their way, cleaning and testing selected data, asking questions, drawing potential narratives, and brainstorming front-end design and interactivity. For inspiration, Joris Maltha of Catalogtree and Thomas Castro of LUST, both from The Netherlands, gave presentations of their own visualizations. Benjamin Wiederkehr, Director of Interactive Things in Zurich, Switzerland, motivated the crowd with simple but powerful rules for creating compelling work. “Don’t be evil.”

Optional clinics and workshops on Saturday from Hot Studio’s Maria Guidice, Gephi creator Mathieu Bastian from LinkedIn, Bryan Smith of Quid, and Loggly co-founder Raffael Marty added value and raised the bar on final projects. Some groups stayed late into the evening and turned up early Sunday to finish before the 1:00 pm deadline.

“I liked that everything was transparent and open,” said participant Sonia Centonze. “It was truly about sharing, and that was awesome. I loved that panelists, presenters, and experts were drawn from diverse places and spheres. It was good to see cross-collaboration and view different perspectives.”

Of the 20 teams that started the weekend, 14 presented final projects ranging in topic from child abuse to most dangerous bus route to the quantity and magnitude of worldwide earthquakes. Four winners were chosen by esteemed judges including Shawn Allen of Stamen, Sha Hwang of Trulia, Mike Bostock of Square, Jeffrey Heer of Stanford University, and other experts. Participants themselves selected the People’s Choice winner.

IMG_4612 2Disaster Strikes won for best dynamic/interactive visualization for its plot of disasters by type (fire, earthquake, etc.) and country between 1950 and 2008, viewable by the number killed, affected, or total cost. For best fusion of multiple data sets went to Team 15 for “Academia is an Iceberg,” a mash-up of Mendeley data with LinkedIn connections. Most aesthetically pleasing was awarded to the Marvel Universe Social Graph project from Team #19, who crafted stunning representations of the connectedness of comic book characters. Did you know that the Invisible Woman is the most connected of the Fantastic Four? And for most actionable, Team #17 won with Parkalator, a live, real-time website to find cost and availability of metered parking in San Francisco. Read about all the projects and watch the presentations.

The People’s Choice award was happily handed out to CuriouSnakes, from Team #1, who showed colorful bubbles dancing across the screen. Trap one to read a question entered into AOL’s search tool. Why is Star Jones in the hospital? Who invented peanut butter? What year was hemophilia discovered? What is the largest river in California? When do the swallows return to San Juan Capistrano? How to improve your memory? You get the idea. Some questions cannot be repeated in polite company.

By the end of the weekend, the expectations of the organizers, generous sponsors, presenters, participants, and jurors were exceeded in every way. But the data visualization train had not yet left the station. A follow-up forum at PeopleBrowsr on June 28 asked the question, “Does Data Visualization Tell us What to Think?”

After a look back at the weekend’s winning projects from Thomas Castro, moderator Peter Aldhous of New Scientist led a panel of experts including Stanford University’s Sep Kamvar, Joris Maltha, Tyler Bell of Factual, and Quid co-founder and CTO Sean Gourley in a sold-out discussion of the trends, risks, and significance of data visualization. Is it art or science, for instance, and what standards of fact or fiction should it be held to? Find out more and watch the full program.

swissnex San Francisco thanks our sponsors, Adobe, LinkedIn, Factual, RapLeaf, Nespresso, Uber, Github, Infochimps, Mozilla, and PeopleBrowsr, as well as our co-organizers, creative partners, jurors, advisory board, and most of all, participants, for making data in sight stunning in every way.

Still want more? Find links to photos, blog posts, videos, and information about the data fest.