Paul Butler is an intern at Facebook. On December 13, 2010, he posted a note on Facebook pertaining to a rather unique example, or picture, of data visualization.
I’ve written before about data visualization: Intriguing Example of Data Visualization, and I’ll write about it again. Sometimes, a sea of data can prevent one from seeing the big picture. Once visible, a good job of data visualization can present the creator’s interpretation. To abuse a tired cliché, it is possible to miss the forest because there are too many trees.
This is what Paul attempted, in his own words:
Visualizing data is like photography. Instead of starting with a blank canvas, you manipulate the lens used to present the data from a certain angle. When the data is the social graph of 500 million people, there are a lot of lenses through which you can view it. One that piqued my curiosity was the locality of friendship. I was interested in seeing how geography and political borders affected where people lived relative to their friends. I wanted a visualization that would show which cities had a lot of friendships between them.
After a few minutes of rendering, the new plot appeared, and I was a bit taken aback by what I saw. The blob had turned into a surprisingly detailed map of the world. Not only were continents visible, certain international borders were apparent as well. What really struck me, though, was knowing that the lines didn’t represent coasts or rivers or political borders, but real human relationships. Each line might represent a friendship made while travelling, a family member abroad, or an old college friend pulled away by the various forces of life.
The result is stunning, if for no other reason than the picture implies that relationships light up the world. There are some noticeable dark spots: the interior of South America, north and central Africa, Russia and China.
I’m an accounting professor, and data visualization is important because there are too many numbers that are in need of the type of picture that Butler can create. If you find another great example, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Debit and credit – - David Albrecht