Manuel Lima at TEDGlobal 2009: Running notes from Session 5

Posted by: Matthew Trost


Unedited running notes from TEDGlobal 2009.

An interaction designer at Nokia, Lima looks at how complex interconnectedness can be understood. He is compelled by the divide between information and knowledge. So he looks at information visualization. He built a visualization tool called Blogviz that helps display how word-of-mouth information travels from person A to person B.

To understand how to visualize info, Lima started collecting hundreds and hundreds of examples of visualizations of complexity, which he compiled onto VisualComplexity.com. Subjects the visualizations deal with include social networks, computer systems, biology, transportation networks, food webs … Now he tracks close to 700 projects.

Networks are omnipresent. They’re in brains, in cells, power grids, ecosystems. This is why it is important to try to map networks. He studied Warren Weaver, who wrote on complexity, and “problems of simplicity.” There are problems of simplicity, problems of disorganized complexity, and problems of organized complexity.

How do we connect interconnected and interdependent components of systems? In collecting visualizations, he’s found some very interesting trends. How do we map the blogosphere? Nodes are not placed abstractly, but in an organized way, for example, according to geography. He shows a snapshot of the entire blogosphere, called “Hyperbolic Blogosphere.”

Lima also tracks photo-sharing sites, i.e. Flickr, semantic structures of tags used in Flickr. He even tracks the most popular paths that people take through a particular city.

Using a network of GPS receivers which each collect paths, we can create “GPS drawings” that show traffic lines. Children using GPS have created drawings. He has also anchored GPS information to emotions, so you can find out what types of places in a certain city are associated with which emotions.

Later in the day he will show some video of visual complexity.

Photo: Manuel Lima at TEDGlobal 2009, Session 5: ” Hidden algorithm,” July 22, 2009, in Oxford, UK. Credit: TED / James Duncan Davidson