Monday, June 9, 2008

Animation - Not Just For Numerical Data

As well as using software like the Trendalyser/Google Motion Chart (Moving with the times) to animate numerical data, it's also possible to use animation techniques to illustrate change in textual documents.

For example, each page in Wikipedia, the wiki powered online encyclopedia, has a History page associated with it that records each change that has been made the article page. By moving through each historical page, and recording the journey, we can create a movie that shows how a page evolved over time.

Watch Jon Udell's Heavy Metal Umlaut: The movie which illustrates the evolution of the Heavy metal umlaut page on Wikipedia.

(This mode of presentation is interesting as a visual communication technique in its own right. Known as screencasting, the idea is to record a screen capture video and provide narration over the top. The approach was popularised by Jon Udell, who used it widely in his blog (see What is screencasting? for an early explanation of the technique, and Heavy Metal Umlaut: The Making of the Movie for a "howto" about how Jon Udell actually made the screencast shown above). Several screencapture tools are now available - my favourite is Jing, from Camtasia (who also develop several other screen capture applications.)

The wikipedia animation allows readers to familiarise themselves with what page updates have happened (and when) in a natural and intuitive way. So let's think for a moment about what the animation is doing. If you have a look at the Heavy Metal umlaut history page, you will see how it provides a list of links to pages that represent the state of the page after each edit, along with the ability to compare two different pages. If you do try to compare two different pages, you will see that the differences are actually highlighted in quite an unfriendly way that is not likely to be very useful for the average reader!

To step between historical wikipedia pages, Udell used a script that had been developed as part of a Wikipedia animation contest. This script essentially 'clicked through' each hisotorical page whilst displaying the main article page. (Note that a more recent version of the wikipedia animation script highlights the changes that have been made to the page [CHECK].)

Another entry in the animation competition actually used a timeline to display when changes had been made, providing a visualisation about when bursts of editing activity had taken place: AniWIki.

Can you think of any circumstances where you might find a wiki animation tool useful? What are the three most important visualisation features would you require it to have?

1 comment:

Tony Hirst said...

I just came across another way of visualising Wikipedia edits, this time from a group at IBM:

History flow: visualizing the editing history of Wikipedia pages.

How well does this 2D view of edits to a particular Wikipedia article over a period compare with the animated changes that Jon Udell described? That is, do the different visualisations tell the same sort of story, or different stories? Which technique do you find more informative, and why?