The Fathers of Datavisualization:
prologue

Over the last few years the world of datavisualization has become a dynamic array of research and innovation. It is field of study that has inspired blogs, invaded bookstores and newspapers, and been put into practice by designers, statisticians, and scientists at an increasing rate. This trend is still more prevalent in the Anglo-Saxon world than in France; however, it seems that the French always exhibit a little reticence to any innovation no matter what form it takes. Of course, tech and design-oriented people in France and French data journalists, as well as their readers, are familiar with datavisualization, but knowledge on the subject is definitely not as widespread as it is in the US or the UK. This situation will soon change for a simple reason: we cannot get rid of datavisualization; it is a very powerful tool that will change the way we communicate information through graphical means.

As a matter of fact, the information available today has become exponentially denser and more complex. We are now monitoring nearly everything that is technically possible to monitor, ranging from climate variations and human interactions on social networks, to global strawberry production and butterfly migration. The number of instruments used to measure the world around us is rocketing, as is their quality. Storage space is also growing rapidly, but it cannot keep up with the lightning-fast pace of data creation. In fact, experts claim that humanity has created as much information in the past two years as it has created since the beginning of its history.

The result is a spectacular quantity of data that has become, with the old-fashioned graphical form of representations, impossible to comprehend. Let’s make an emphasis here. We need to understand that the traditional visual tools to organize data, such as graphs, charts, and pie charts, were designed a few centuries ago. Why were they the preferred methods of datavisualization? The answer is that people were limited by the available technology; they had to manually draw their data representations on paper using protractors, rulers and compasses.

Thanks to the development of computer systems and software we can now design interactive and visually innovative forms that communicate quantitative information. These representations are far more insightful than ever before, allowing us to efficiently understand key relations between sets of data that would otherwise remain hidden. Moreover, the demand for quality designs that provide quick access to information has been growing in the tech industry and economy. With the rise of tactile devices and applications, datavisualization has become an important part of the user experience. Some startups in this industry employ dozens of designers whose work focuses solely on the improvement of data representation. Our time is precious, which is why the applications of the future will convey information smoothly and rapidly to serve our needs.

Today, datavisualization is a major trend with significant implications, yet this has not always been the case. In future posts, we will pay tribute to the important people who have made datavisualization possible through their hard work and innovation.

Fathers of datavisualization: Nicolas Oresme 1320-1382

Nicolas Oresme, French philosopher and Bishop of Lisieux, wrote influential work on a wide variety of subjects, including economics, mathematics, physics, astronomy, psychology and philosophy. He is considered to be one of the most original thinkers of the 14th century.

A major contributor to data visualization, Oresme was the first to propose the use of bar graphics to show the evolution of a variable that depends upon another value. He invented a type of coordinate geometry before Descartes, finding the logical equivalence between tabulating values and graphing them in De configurationibus qualitatum et motuum. It is likely that Oresme’s work influenced Descartes, as it was reprinted multiple times throughout the 100 years following its original publication.

Nicolas Oresme defied the norm and questioned some of Artistotle’s ideas, including his idea of time based on uniform motion. To counter this particular theory of Aristotle’s, Oresme proposed a definition of time that suggested that it is independent of motion. He was also the first person to prove Merton’s theorem, which discusses uniform acceleration and distance travelled, due in part to his use of datavisualization.

Although more progress would ultimately be made by other great thinkers in the following centuries, Nicolas Oresme helped develop a foundation on which the study of subjects involving datavisualization could grow.

Datawar: Power to marketing directors

It has been a long long time since we last posted about our product development. A lot of people have been questioning us to know where we stand as a company.

Actually it is pretty good to see that things have been moving steadily the past two quarters. First we have considerably increased our team size. From 3 people at the beginning of the year, we are now almost twenty. It is fair to say that most of these people are product dev. team, as we have a huge product challenge to deal with. As you may know, what we intend to do is a strange alchemy of big data, interactive design and data-visualization. Technically speaking, it means HTML 5, Hadoop backed-end solution plus a touch of SQL Server in between. In conceptual terms, BigData, OpenData, Datavisualization + friendliness are our key Mantras (we recitate that every morning). No need to say that that this gathering of concepts seems just wired to anyone who has some experience in the Business Intelligence field.

But the most important is probably somewhere else : we have been really stunned to see that what we have been saying since almost two years is now a reality. DataSynchronisation is about to become hype (it doesn’t come in the Wired hype index yet though) as most companies are starting to realize that they have lost ground with their data ; therefore, the notion of BigData is becoming increasingly a key topic for them.

In all of the conferences that we attended on the topic, we have seen that most companies admit that their have huge difficulties to manage their data. Privately they confesse that the most common request (compare the price on two items, one from the company another from a competitor) doesn’t get answered easily from their ERP or IT systems. Handling data -visualizing it- in itself is an issue, but handling bigdata has become a simple nightmare, especially for big corporation as it is commonly admitted that a large fortune 500 company generally creates several Petabytes of data every… day.

Reversely, being able to use these data is the way to give back to innovation and marketing the control of companies. If you could visualise exactly what is at stake, you would most certainly take the right decision ; but until marketing directors are able to do it, their are condemned to rely on some sort of « magic thinking management » which is more of a mystic than a rational decision process. This explain probably why Marketing Director is the position with the highest turnover of all types ; in average, this type of position is renewed every…. 18 Months.

This is why we truly believe in our approach: making things simple in a complexe data world. Our product is just about to be released and people will be able to experience in no time whether it is pure fluff or real breakthrough. On that side, we are more inclined to believe in the 2nd affirmation…