(For Class: Mining the Web: How to Scrape, Analyze & Map Open Data) – Visualization Discussion Assignment


Find an interesting or visually compelling visualization online and write a blog post analyzing the elements based on the framework presented in class (Acquire, Clean, Analyze, and Communicate). Discuss the visual style, assess its effectiveness, and how well the data was represented (be nice, some of those people may be your instructors).

Despite a plethora of spatially-focused and aesthetically-modern data visualizations that currently exist on the web, I chose an “older” and perhaps less “visually stimulating” visualization to discuss here, but one that I believe has an impact as great as any good visualization that was created with more contemporary data visualization tools: The FAA Closure of US Airspace on September 11, 2001 (created by NASA).

I chose this visualization for a few reasons:

1) Again, for its simplicity, an important quality I believe that can be easily lost with the increasing availability of more accessible (e.g. no code required or simply less code required) data visualization options offered through various data visualization platforms. (i.e. sometimes the excitement of what’s available causes a loss of focus that results in including too much information or information that is presented in an overwhelming and unintuitive way.)

2) It has a wow factor that demonstrates that no matter how eloquently one communicates an event such as the grounding of flights on 9/11 through language, the impact of seeing it in a visualization just feels more palpable. What perhaps you don’t quite grasp through language, such as realizing the shear number of all of the other thousands of airplanes flying in the sky that day, you definitely do not miss in the visualization. The visualization ads visually-critical context for truly grasping an event of this magnitude.

3) I like airplanes.

With regards to the Acquire, Clean, Analyze, and Communicate framework presented in class, while I have never created an animated visualization using FAA data, I do know that the data is difficult to acquire (because I’ve tried previously), and that is due in part to access restrictions and the shear volume of data itself. This particular visualization, however, looks like a series of ATC screen shots that live on an animated timeline. The data probably already existed in their visual form and were merely retrieved from some archive and screen captured.

To create something like this from scratch, that is, to create the actual map, with its underlying data existing on “the backend” and its “front end” visual design, would likely require a great deal of work. And since the animation relies on date and time, care would have to be taken to make sure that date and time attributes were properly formatted. The analysis part of this type of visualization I assume would be minimal, since the “analysis” sort of reveals itself in the animation, and the interesting thing about the communication piece here is that the data really does speak for itself, which is a reason to keep something like this simple. I think the visual style here is dated, so it may serve the story well to give it a fresh update using a more contemporary look (and that would require acquiring the raw data, since it’s the design captured in the screen shots that’s dated).


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