Tag Archives: visualisation

Data Riches and Visualization

Last week, I was in Washington, D.C. to present our work at the annual conference of the Society for Social Studies of Science. Here is a link to our abstract. The session we were in was organized by Catelijne Koopmans, National University of Singapore, under the title “Data Riches: The Practices and Politics of Exploiting Digital Data Sets’. There were lovely papers by Simon N. Williams, Cardiff University (on the democratic use of digital data in electronic public engagement), Catelijne herself (on how in practices of data handling notions of ‘riches’ are maintained, illustrated via the case of visual analytics), Corinna Bath, Humboldt University Berlin (on gendered orders of knowledge in the semantic web), and Martin HandAshley Scarlett, Queens University (on epistemic and ethical performativity of images in web-based photo-sharing practices). One of the session participants, Denisa Kera, wasn’t able to attend the conference, so unfortunately we had to do without her presentation on data realism of visualizations and application mashups.

Lane DeNicola was kind enough to act as session discussant. Lane works as a lecturer at a newly developed program in digital anthropology at UCL. He did a great job of tying some of the themes together that surfaced in our respective presentations. For our Network Realism project, the digitization processes Lane mentioned as a distinct point of intersection was indeed interesting. He gave the example of the British museum, where a high resolution scanner is used to make 3d visualizations of parts of the collection. These are not only used in the museum, but also for digital repatriation, where the vizualizations are offered for use by indigeneous people. As Lane argued, the process also raises the question of what exactly is left in the artifact itself that the BM wants to hold on to. Lane also raised the issue of the interface, what it does to data when it is presented in visual form, and how that relates to the interpretative power of the human. In addition, he noted that the terminology of data mining presupposes the ‘riches’ we refer to in our session title, while obscuring the interpretative process, and who controls production.

After the session, some of us talked further on how to pursue ethnographic work via networked interactions with our informants, and we discussed possible ways to stay in touch on the topic. There is of course much more to discuss and many more avenues to explore, as there were indeed interesting intersections between several of the presentations. This post is meant as a step in that direction, and as an invitation to all readers to share their thoughts with us.


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Network Realism at CYSWIK reunion

Last September, the Virtual Knowledge Studio hosted a cross-sector workshop around knowledge visualisation: CYSWIK (can you see what I know?). Six months later, we are holding an afternoon-long meeting to update each other on the various projects and budding collaborations that had emerged from the workshop: the perfect opportunity to tell everyone about this project. Rather than a print-on-large-paper poster, the format chosen was a looping show. The challenge is to give a very visual, stand alone taster of the concerns of the project.

Power point was used as a platform, which worked pretty well. There are actually lots of sub-sub-sub menus in the software that enable you to tailor animations, effects and timing. Still, in showing interaction with a website interface, something closer to animation software would have been more satisfying. (And I know this exists and can be done, as I’ve seen mac-carriers performing this at conferences). Something to explore further.

Eye candy from the show… extractcyswik

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Visual Culture and Texts

At the colloquium on ‘texts and digital creativity’ last week, one session was dedicated to ‘texts as artifacts’. Somewhat unexpectedly, this session raised a lot of very pertinent issues for our project. Bruce Zuckerman presented on the project and site ‘Inscriptifact‘ (some assembly required). A large part of the navigation on this site, which provides photos of inscriptions on artifacts (hence the name…), is done using the image as an interface, as an index of further material that can be consulted. Furthermore, the latest visualisation strategy presented these objects in a very particular way. Using a ‘light dome’, objects are photographed from a number of angles and under a number of conditions. The website interface enables one to visualise the object, as though angling it in the light/shifting the angle of lighting. The point, for the Inscriptifact people and users, is that different angles will reveal different aspects of the object and script. The specific interface is a black circle, over which a mouse can be moved, so as to indicate the preferred angle of lighting. The transition is smoothed out, further adding to the perception of seamlessness. (I couldn’t find this particular interface on the site, but that could be because it’s not yet implemented–will have to contact Bruce about that.)

But it’s the logic of the interface that I find so fascinating. It’s a bit hard to put into words, but the interface appeals to a notion of manipulation, of spatial handling of the object. The particularity of this approach was further highlighted by the contrast with the other presentation in this session. Roger Boyle from the University of Leeds spoke about the work he has been leading on the digital processing of images of texts, so as to reconstruct watermarks and other properties of the paper (which are invaluable sources regarding provenance, and printing and circulation history of documents). For this work, he deploys a substraction methodology, to remove the data belonging to the recto and to verso, so as to be left with the data about the ‘in-between’, the paper layer. Not surprisingly, Boyle’s expertise has also been applied and developped through work on medical imaging, where the subtraction methodology has indeed been immensely fruitful–not only to visualise structure, but also to image the function of the brain.

What makes these constrasting approaches interesting? In one case, the images were of interest because of their plenitude, of the wealth of possible views. In the other, it is the removal of excess that makes the image precious and informative. Both kinds of visualisation require a comparison, but its site is different and the viewer has a different role.

These two talks and the subsequent conversations with the speakers sparked further reflections on the role of the observer, on the way the computer was being used in each of these cases, and on the different versions of the digital being instantiated. These are just the kinds of fascinating projects at the edge of digital visual culture that we hope to better be able to characterise and understand as our research develops.

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