Data wants to be free
November 9, 2007: Just as the basic tools (if not necessarily the high aesthetics) of visual communication have been thoroughly democratized, tools for data visualization are moving to the mainstream. The most recent example I've seen, and it's a lovely one, is The Gapminder World 2006. The exciting thing to me is not so much that the information design clearly and simply reveals unsettling truths (people in Africa live 30 years shorter lives than people in the US; think about that for a moment) but that the tool makes play out of the work of visualizing the ubiquitously invisible patterns of the world. Along with such as Stamen's Trulia Hindsight and others, these tools are not only leaving the academy and the messy basement desks of government analysts and moving out into the world, but they are becoming more playful, more narrative, and more polemical. Let the spime wrangling commence (can people be Spimes?).