Art for the Age of Transparency: BBC DataArt
By Maria Popova
We’re big proponents of data visualization and believe it’s a potent tool for making sense of the increasing amount of information we’re being bombarded with. But despite a slew of fantastic work in this space over the past few years, there’s still relatively low public awareness and understanding of data viz as a creative discipline and a sensemaking tool.
That’s why we have high hopes for DataArt, a new project out of BBC Backstage aiming to offer examples of using data visualization in artistic and informative ways. Educational in nature, the learning portal is as much a showcase of compelling work as it is an introduction to the storytelling power of information visualization and a toolkit for joining this growing movement.
The DataArt project aims to introduce people to the power of information visualisation as a contemporary media form of increasing importance.
In an age where institutional transparency is no longer a courtesy but a demand, and companies, governments and other public entities are opening up their data to the public, the DataArt project offers a promising toolkit for understanding how ordinary people fan use data visualization to do anything from making better-informed decisions to expressing themselves creatively. With tools, tutorials, sample computer code and access to copyright-free data sources, the site is both a starting point and a destination, catering to a wide range of technical expertise levels and creative inclinations.
In blurring the boundary between art and information we hope this site will appeal to audiences interested in data visualisation in general, digital art and design, those interested in the BBC and those looking at data visualisation from an educational perspective.
Though currently pulling only from BBC data, the idea is to eventually sample other public sources as well. Four projects have been released so far: Flared Music is a simple Flash visualization displaying the relationships between musicians using the BBC Music API; 3D Documentary Explorer is an experiment in interactive storytelling, allowing you to look at the source material used in BBC documentaries in 3D; SearchWeb offers a tree-style glimpse of how BBC site search results are distributed across different categories; News Globe lets you search the BBC News & Sport website by keyword, with results plotted on a globe.
The project also encourages participation and collaboration, urging users to contribute and share their own work on the site. Part VisualComplexity, part GapMinder, part Processing, DataArt offers a promising wide-angle view of data visualization as an exploratory tool and a creative discipline.
We do hope to see more user-contributed work as well as a wider array of public data sets to play with.
Published April 12, 2010