mapping blog posts worldwide in real time

ReadWriteWeb recently had two posts on information visualization. Marshall Kirkpatrick addresses the question of information overload by looking at how new visualization media are adapting from gaming interfaces. Sarah Perez lists The Best Tools for for Visualization by breaking the tools into several categories: Visualize Social Networks, Visualize Music, Visualize the Internet, among others. The number of tools, applications, and plugins that are now available, combined with the increasing importance of being able to become critical readers and composers of visual information, suggests that we are going to start to seriously rethink (more than we have already) the place of information visualization in our curricula and its placement in composition as a whole.

(I will soon be making an argument to my department that the course that I (and a few others) teach, Writing, Research, and Technology, needs to be transformed from one in which students consider visual rhetoric and compose multimodal essays (at least in my sections, I’m not sure what happens in others—another issue to be addressed), into one dedicated to a critical understanding of information visualization. I’m still not sure the kinds of assignments that I would like to see or the applications considered, but I would like students to compose Adobe Flex applications that interact with XML data and/or engage with mapping in Google Earth, and/or one of the many useful APIs, and so forth. One question, among many, is how to ensure that such a course coevolves with current visualization technologies. Perhaps what we really need is an information visualization certificate where students take classes ranging from visual rhetoric to mapping and cartography to composing their own apps. Lots to think about.)

In a comment to Sarah Perez’ post, a reader pointed to Twingly’s screensaver: “Our screensaver is a visualization of the real time web… more precise a visualization over the blogosphere, real time, as a world globe.” The creators see this application as an evolution of the RSS Reader: “Forget RSS readers where you see only what you’re interested in. With Twingly screensaver you get a 24/7 stream of all (viewer discretion advised) blog activity, straight to your screen.” The installation is quite simple and can be run as a stand-along application as well as a screen saver. They include this video (there is no sound):

The Twingly screensaver compliments Jonathan Harris’ work (which I posted about below) but unlike Harris, whose applications segment out information based on preset conditions that often give an artificial sense of wholeness (for example, “We Feel Fine” only includes passages from blogs posted in English and therefore, despite his earnest ideals, only maps the “human emotion” of the English-speaking world), Twingly presents all posts in multiple languages from across the planet. As a result, we get a more authentic (re)presentation of the dissemination of the ideas of those on the planet who have a blog and care to share them.

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