JCDL Conference 2008

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Keynote — Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg

Wednesday, June 18, 8:30-10:00am

Fernanda Viégas Martin Wattenberg

Shakespeare, God, and Lonely Hearts:
Transforming Data Access with Many Eyes



Data visualization has historically been accessible only to the elite in academia, business, and government. It is “serious” technology done by experts for experts. But in recent years, web-based visualizations—ranging from political art projects to news stories—have reached audiences of millions. Unfortunately, while lay users can view many sophisticated visualizations, they have few ways to create them. In order to “democratize” visualization, we have built Many Eyes, a web site where people may upload their own data, create interactive visualizations, and carry on conversations. By making these tools available to anyone on the web, the site fosters a social style of data analysis that empowers users to engage with public data through discussion and collaboration. Political discussions, citizen activism, religious conversations, game playing, and educational exchanges are all happening on Many Eyes. As we will discuss in this talk, the public nature of these visualizations provides users with a transformative path to information literacy.

Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg are research scientists in the Visual Communication Lab at IBM. Having created traditional visualization tools for a number of years, the two became fascinated by the power of the web to unleash collective discovery and discussion among lay users. They are currently exploring the social side of visual tools to foster collaboration, collective sensemaking, and storytelling. Viégas is known for her pioneering work on depicting chat histories and email. Before joining IBM, Viégas’s research at the MIT Media Lab focused on the visualization of the traces people leave as they interact in online communities. Some of her projects explored email archives, newsgroup conversations, and the editing history of wiki pages. Her interest in the stories that these social archives tell us led to a series of visualization pieces of highly personal, emotionally-charged data.

Wattenberg's visualizations of the stock market and baby names are considered internet classics. Prior to IBM, Wattenberg was the Director of Research and Development at SmartMoney.com, a joint venture of Dow Jones and Hearst. His work at SmartMoney included the groundbreaking Map of the Market, commonly held as a powerful model of user-friendly information visualization.

Both Viégas and Wattenberg are also known for their visualization-based artwork, which has been exhibited in venues such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, London Institute of Contemporary Arts and the Whitney Museum of American Art. The two became a team in 2003 when they decided to visualize Wikipedia, leading to the “history flow” project that revealed the self-healing nature of the online encyclopedia.

Viégas holds a Ph.D. in Media Arts and Sciences from MIT and lives in Boston. Wattenberg holds a Ph.D. in mathematics from U.C. Berkeley and lives in Winchester, Massachusetts.

For more information about Fernanda Viégas visit http://www.research.ibm.com/visual/fernanda.html.

For more information about Martin Wattenberg visit http://www.research.ibm.com/visual/martin.html.