Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Reaction: The Value of Information Visualization

Overall "The Value of Information Visualization" provides a very good summary of the field of information visualization and its challenges without giving much unique insight into the field. The various examples provided show the power of visualizations to influence history, or just 'amplify congnition' about some subject.

I would object to the authors insistence that visualizations are not useful or appropriate when the user has a specific question. The author claims that a query or a web search may present them with an answer, and while this is true, may not give them the context of that answer. A properly built visualization would present the answer as well as put it in context other pieces of data.

In fact the paper continues with the an example of a table of data and corresponding graph showing the percentage of college degress and income by state. It then presents two different questions that are easily answered by the graph, but not as easily answered by a looking at the table, a query on the table, or a web search. So while I would agree that at times a visualization may not be the best choice to try to find the answer to a question, it greatly depends on the question at hand and a blanket generalization cannot be made.

Overall the paper is a very good read for anyone wanting to understand information visualizations at a very high level. To those already in the field, it would probably not be of much help, but that is not its purpose.