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Inf@Vis!

The digital magazine of InfoVis.net

Look at the Blogosphere
by Juan C. Dürsteler [message nº 140]

Weblog visualisation uses spatial metaphors like that of the world map or the underground lines of a city. Something so apparently unlinked to localisation requires it in order to establish a reference(?).

Maintaining a weblog has become a very common and widespread practice for a while now. It’s also a form of relationship and communication. The definition of what a weblog (or blog) is, is matter for discussion. 

We can define it as a web page made by one or more authors from frequently updated, chronologically organised short annotations, about topics relevant for the authors.

A blog usually is a vital record, somewhat like a diary, of the opinions and findings in the Net and other miscellaneous aspects of our tour through cyberspace and/or reality.

Weblog visualisation deserves a certain amount of attention since it presents some specific features.

An interesting aspect of this type of visualisation is that of the city bloggers (blog creators that live in a city), that are grouped in the visualisation according to the underground stations of their city. There are (at least) three examples of this type of visualisation (should anybody know more of them, please tell me) for the cities of

The three of them have an underground map on which, by clicking on the station icons you are led to the blog list associated to said station. 

Lndnblogmap.gif (101355 bytes) NYCblogmap.gif (115791 bytes) WaDCblogmap.gif (121009 bytes)
The blog map of London The blog map of New York The blog map of Washington DC
Click on the image to enlarge it. Source: screen shots of the web site as it can be seen on the browser.

The case of London is doubly interesting since the underground map it uses comes from the famous example of information visualisation due to the work of Harry Beck in the early 30s for the London Underground. On this map rolling over the station only tells you how many blogs are associated to it, and then you have to click on it in order to get the complete list. 

Unlike this case, the map of Washington offers you a complete list of blogs for every station so that you only have to click on the one you are interested in. This one is probably the most simple and intuitive of the three.

The web pages of London and New York are more complete but also more complicated regarding navigation. You can add your weblog, see the lists as stand alone, in text format, etc.

What still fascinates me is the fact that the type of visualisation chosen for something apparently so unlinked to localisation as a weblog (that, in principle it doesn’t matter if it’s located in Cienfuegos or in Singapur) is precisely an urban and spatial visual metaphor like the underground map is. Although the underground map is an example of representing connectivity, something very central to weblogs, the adscription to a particular station is a very spatial reference.

It appears that we humans understand in a specially intuitive way the landscape visual metaphor. Maybe those of us who inhabit the virtual world need a spatial referent to remember the things of interest for us and to include a familiar content on it.

InfoBreakfast.gif (31551 bytes) NewsQuakes.gif (161768 bytes) GeoblogDimax.gif (175258 bytes)
Infobreakfast NewsQuakes The world as a Blog
Click on the image to enlarge it. Source: screen shots of the web site as it can be seen on the browser.

On the other hand Infobreakfast is a minimalist yet visually effective version of a blog where the news is organised in 10 categories as a link table. I didn’t succeed in finding out who or what is behind it, since the FAQ link is broken. Its tag line is “low-fat news”. Interesting to see.

In a more topographic line, yet of global scope, NewsQuakes whose tag line is “world news for the lazy”, represents the news over a world map as concentric circles (like in an earthquake) in whose epicentre lies the country or zone that the news originates from. Every circle acts as a link to the news that you can click on to be led to its source.

A little bit more complete is the “real time” visualisation (or at least it seems to be so) of the blogosphere. In it, on a world map, you see localised geographically new entries of blogs at the time they are posted.

Weblog visualisation has made me think about the need for a familiar reference when we face something very familiar regarding its use but absolutely unfamiliar regarding its organisation and topology. Beyond being an unthinkably extended network, cyberspace is a place of unattainable coordinates. Probably an acceptable way can be to assimilate cyberspace to a familiar topography even though it can be far away from the real nature of cyberspace. 


See also:

Links of this issue:

http://www.londonbloggers.co.uk   London bloggers
http://www.nycbloggers.com   New York city bloggers
http://www.reenhead.com/map/metroblogmap.html   Washington DC bloggers
http://www.infobreakfast.com/   Infobreakfast "low-fat news"
http://www.skep.tk/newsquakes/   Newsquakes "world news for the lazy"
http://www.brainoff.com/geoblog/   "Real time" blogosphere visualisation
http://www.jezblog.34sp.com/bloglossary.htm   Multilingual glossary about weblogs
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