Manuel Lima of VisualComplexity gave an inspiring presentation yesterday at Reboot 9.0 in Copenhagen. Manuel set up the site in 2005 after doing his thesis project BlogViz at the Parson’s School of Design. Frustrated by the lack of a unified visualization resource, he started collecting links and even scanning out-of-print articles. Soon after VisualComplexity (VC) was born.
Since the launch in 2005, VC has grown to feature over 460 projects. Seen over time, it mirrors current trends in the Infoviz field regarding what kinds of data people are visualizing, as well as what techniques are popular. To reflect this, the site now features navigation by topic or by method. The statistics over common searches and subject distribution is also interesting reading.
Although the intention of VisualComplexity is academic, it does reveal a fascination with the aesthetic qualities of networks. In his talk, Manuel compared structures that look similar despite being essentially different in nature. For instance, the massive Millennium Simulation, which shows the evolution of the Universe, looks strikingly like the neural net of a rat. Obviously, this has no scientific relevance, but might explain why networks have such an aesthetic impact.
Lev Manovich has presented a reading of visualization as Data Art, with Infoviz projects often have an emotional impact on par with more traditional art forms. His paper “Data Visualisation as New Abstraction and Anti-Sublime” is downloadable from his web site. Seen in this context, VC is a treasure trove of works with both scientific and aesthetic impact. Simply scanning the page with thumbnails of all the projects will confirm this.
According to Manuel, the next step for VisualComplexity will be to turn it into an open map of maps. The VC database itself will be opened up for people to navigate or visualize in new ways. Hopefully this will help the database grow even further.