Archive for November, 2006

Images + graphs : the winning persuasion combination

Posted on November 27, 2006. Filed under: Animation, conference, English, Video |

Have you seen Davis Guggenheim’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” (“Une vérité qui dérange” en Français) ? The latest docu-blockbuster showcases Al Gore’s crusade to raise the world’s awareness on the global climate crisis is a powerful example of the use of visual information to convince viewers of the reality of its key aspects, like the raising levels of carbon dioxyde.

Some of this borrows from the best of Hollywood craftmanship or Pentagon’s psychological operations toolbox … this time for a good cause ! I was convinced long before the film that man could have an effect on global environment issues but like others I had trouble with the fact that many climate scientists admit they could not prove the rising carbon level was truly causing sea level or temperature to increase. The case made by the novel “State of Fear” (“Etat d’urgence” en Français) from Michael Crichton was quite persuasive in its own sense … one could not win a legal case on this issue ! But to Al Gore’s credit, his slideshow really moves mountains : as the famous French photograph Yann Arthus-Bertrand put it during the conference that followed the showing, he has been trying for 10 years to no avail to convince some of his friends who were turned around by the film !

The most convincing part is probably the rapid succession of graphs going through the roof and video images of hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, … As well as superimposing 2 graphs to show the evidence without having to prove it.

Rising carbon and temperature levels

To those who see PowerPoint as evil … Al Gore’s slideshow will prove hard to fight in the minds of all who saw it ! The video images speak to the emotional self, while the graphs speak to the rational self. In the minds of most people graphs can not lie as they represent hard facts that can be traced back to a source that can be challenged by experts, whom they trust to voice their disagreement if it is wrong. But in our information overloaded society such a disagreement will be hard to hear … and to weigh against contradictive analyses / opinions.

Addition : I recently found another example (that may have been to some extent ‘inspired’ by Al Gore’s) : a lesson in economics (amongst other things showing the impact of the level of taxes on growth) by the the Medef’s president Laurence Parisot at the last General Assembly in January.

Pedagogie economique par L. Parisot
Uploaded by besoindair

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Why social networks grow or fail ? A graphic approach to understand the rules

Posted on November 3, 2006. Filed under: English |

Reading the very good Information Design Watch blog this morning I learned about 2016, a symposium in Washington that took place in October. Organized by The Computer Science and Communication Board (CSTB) for its 20th anniversary (see agenda), hosting lecturers such as the head of Yahoo Research, the CEO of Google or major academic figures. As an article by the NY Times reported it, one of the key subject was the analysis of how computer science and other scientific areas permeated each other more and more over the last decades. One of its topics was social communities, and while this has been a subject long analyzed by anthropologists and sociologists, the success of online social networks of the likes of Friendster, Linkedin or MySpace has added another perspective to it. An anthropologist, Karen Stephenson, made the link in the corporate culture (see Business 2.0 article), as more and more want to use the power of those tools to leverage Communities of Practice (CoP, see more on that subject on the APQC website).

The emergence of such networks in real life usually took many years, whereas online it can take less than a year for a site to create a massive community of readers, that even when it lacks typical social networks features like a blog will do (see example of PopSugar celebrity gossip site attracting more than 12 million pageviews in less than 5 months, as featured in a Business 2.0 article). Understanding the drivers to creating, growing and maintaining such an online community is a hot subject amongst publishers and advertisers. One often favored approach is the massive log data analysis … which in turn ask the question of extracting useful information out of it. Common marketing/CRM datamining tools where not build for such massive multilayered data sets, and picking which angle to use to analyze it may prove quite hard … or lucky ! This is why a dynamic graphical approach could do the trick better, as you can see in the example shown by the NY Times. The objective beeing to derive an algorithmic approach that can be replicated.

The web as a living organism, by Jon Kleinberg and Lars Backstrom, Cornell University


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