Two interesting uses of maps today, one is a completely non-geographical map that illustrtaes data while the other is a completely artistic use of geography.
Islands of Music
Last.fm is a great service – I’ve written about it before. The best thing about it is the copious and collection of interesting data on music tastes (you can even see how geeky your taste in music is).
Like many other web sites Last.fm has a tagging system, and so it interesting to see how different tags relate to each other – are hip-hop fans more likely to listen to ambient or heavy metal? One very cool way to do this is with a map.
See the orginal version here, complete with mouseover descriptions of the different islands. Visualizing music tatses as a map makes some interesting findings pop out – the long continent of folk, psychadelic, and metal in the northeast, for example. Deathcore and emo are on the same continent, just on opposite sides of what I call You-Don’t-Understand-Me-Dad Bay.
This is an alternative to more conventional tag cloud or word cloud representations, though I’m not sure which presents information more clearly.
Another thing that strikes me is the similarity to video game maps – perhaps because of the iconic color palate. Though we might think of them geographically, video game maps are equally artificial ways to relate to a big pile of numerical data.
World maps as Chinese zodiac
Artist Kentaro Nagai has used the continents (and major islands) as a medium to create the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac. See all of them here.
I particularly like the economy of arrangement in the rooster:
…and the sheep for it’s nice use of negative space.
Thanks to Chris for the link to the Zodiac
Visualizing the web
Although web technologies are constantly changing, most users still browse the web the same way they did back in 1995–typing keywords into search boxes, clicking from home page, to section, to subsection on a navigation bar, or following link, to link, to link. The fact that it is called a “web” suggests that there should be other ways of navigating websites, and there are a number of projects attempting to employ information visualizations and spatial maps to do so.
All web pages organize information visually, but “information visualization centers around helping people explore or explain data that is not inherently spatial, such as that from the domains of bioinformatics, data mining and databases, finance and commerce, telecommunications and networking, information retrieval from large text corpora, software, and computer-supported cooperative work.” (“InfoVis 2003 Symposium”) Spatial metaphors are used to communicate different levels of information. A simple, static example would be a personal homepage built to look like the designers home, with links to favorite movies in the living room and recipes in the kitchen. A more advanced example would be a customer relationship management system for a large company which instead of presenting a list of technical support problems and solutions, displays an interactive map of problems, with more common problems in a larger font size, and recent problems in red. In both cases, users get an immediate grasp of complex information.
Such visualizations are intended to help solve two current web usability problems: the lack of a wide view to web structure, and the lack of query refinement based on relationships of retrieved pages (Ohwada 548). But they must do so without creating additional usability barriers. This paper will describe three current information visualization projects and describe some of the usability issues these sorts of projects face.