Four ways data scientists are using digital art to humanize data

The growing pains of big data were apparent at the Data 2.0 Summit on Tuesday in San Francisco.

During one panel, the assertion that data science is dead was indeed debated. Along with the habitual tension between end user requirements for businesses and consumers and the “elitist” ideas of data scientists and engineers, other themes explored included increasing accessibility to data, as well as changing behaviors and encouraging better decision-making with data. Everyone from sales and marketing people to fitness enthusiasts, it turns out, can be motivated by pretty pictures.

As IBM’s (s ibm) Alah Keahey put it during a panel, “there is a hunger for friendly data,” and visualization can help to humanize those threatening terabytes. Here are a selection of new, and new-to-us, visualization tools that came up at the meeting.

Bringing climate change home:

A mapping and analytics platform from the Conservation Biology Institute that has 10,000 datasets on everything you need to understand how extreme weather will impact natural resources, renewable energy, and endangered species. Here is one projection of maximum temperatures in 2080.


Sparkvis by Chloe Fan

This app is for the quantified self junkie who loves to interpret their burned calories as abstract art. The research behind the colorful display of Fitbit (see disclosure) data is explained here. Image via


Disqus Gravity

The commenting platform’s diverse content is brought together in an interactive and live visualization. Pulling from about 500 sites that use Disqus, Gravity brings together the “small” data of individual comments within the context of 11 content categories. Another visualization, Orbital, shows realtime comments geolocated on a spinning globe.


IBM Many Eyes

Originally conceived by visualization guru Martin Wattenberg and colleagues in 2007, Many Eyes lets you plug in any dataset and generate nifty figures. Here, for example, is the distribution of U.S. foreign aid over a 60-year period.


Disclosure: Fitbit is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of GigaOM. Om Malik, founder of GigaOM, is also a venture partner at True.