10 Best Data Visualization Projects of the Year – 2010

tourists in sf

Data visualization and all things related continued its ascent this year with projects popping up all over the place. Some were good, and a lot were not so good. More than anything, I noticed a huge wave of big infographics this year. It was amusing at first, but then it kind of got out of hand when online education and insurance sites started to game the system. Although it's died down a lot ever since the new Digg launched.

That's what stuck out in my mind initially as I thought about the top projects of the year. Then I went through the archives. There was a ton of great work, too. So much so that I've gone with the top ten data visualization projects of 2010, instead of the top five.

One of the major themes for 2010 was using data not just for analysis or business intelligence, but for telling stories. People are starting to make use of the data (especially government-related) that was released in 2009, and there was a lot more data made available this year (with plenty more to come). There were also more visualization challenges and contests than I could count.

So here are the top 10 visualization projects of the year, listed from bottom to top.

10. Asteroid Discovery

Scott Manley of the Armagh Observatory visualized 30 years of asteroid discoveries. It's a straightforward animation that shows planets and asteroids orbiting the sun, with waves of twinkles as discoveries are made. I especially liked the contrast between human and automated discoveries.

9. Driving Shifts Into Reverse

Hannah Fairfield, former editor for The New York Times, and now graphics director for The Washington Post, had a look at gas prices versus miles driven per capita. The chart could've easily been an x-y scatterplot, but the extra step was taken to connect the dots so to speak. Points were ordered by time, and turns were clearly explained graphically.

8. The Evolution of Privacy on Facebook

This weekender by Matt McKeon of the IBM Visual Communication Lab explored the changes of Facebook privacy policies over the years. It came right after Facebook had made another update to push for a more public profile. Click on the interactive, and see what becomes public and how many people can see your postings.

7. What Online Marketers Know About You

Along the same privacy lines, this project from Andrew Garcia Philips and Sarah Slobin (plus five data gatherers) of The Wall Street Journal explored what online marketers know about you. I wouldn't say the visualization itself was super advanced, but thoughtful reporting and company breakdowns really made the whole piece work.

6. Education Nation Scorecard

The Education Nation Scorecard, by Ben Fry-headed Fathom Design, brought together sparse education data, at the national, state, and local level, in a single application. You can easily search for your own school or area to see how it compares to the rest.

5. Nature by Numbers

Nature by Numbers by Cristobal Vila isn't a typical data visualization piece. It's more of a demonstration of mathematical concepts, but it's a beautiful work that must be watched to fully appreciate. You will have a new found appreciate for Fibonacci, guaranteed.

4. Tracking the Oil Spill

The BP oil spill was the center of public attention for a good part of the year, and The New York Times did a great job at keeping us updated on all aspects of the spill. This included where the oil spread, what land areas were affected, and effects on wildlife.

3. Polymaps

JavaScript keeps getting faster and is becoming a viable route (over Flash) for visualization on the Web.Polymaps, by SimpleGeo and Stamen, is an open-source JavaScript mapping library that lets you build interactive maps from scratch. I haven't had a chance to use Polymaps for a project yet, but I'm looking forward to it, and I am sure we will see a number of Polymaps projects spring up next year.

2. Journalism in the Age of Data

During his Knight Journalism fellowship at Stanford, Geoff McGhee interviewed visualization trendsetters on how they deal and what they do with data in Journalism in the Age of Data. Just about every well-known data practitioner (and their work) is featured in the hour-long video. The focus is on journalism, but the topics apply to all types of visualization.

1. Tourist Maps

We've seen maps based on Flickr photos before, but most aren't much more than pictures on a map. Eric Fischer took the next step and looked for where the tourists flock, all based on data available via the Flickr API. Tourist photos are marked red, local photos are marked blue, and photos where tourism could not be determined were marked yellow. He did this for over 100 major cities in the world.

The end result was maps with pockets of tourists and locals. Visiting somewhere new and want an authentic experience? Maybe head towards the blue.

Fischer also had a fine series on race and ethnicity.

And there you have it. Those are my top ten picks for 2010. It was tough ranking all of them, as many of these could've placed top honors on a different day. What are your picks for the year?