A Constant Succession of Eyes


The title of this blog post is a half-remembered snip from Jane Jacobs’ masterpiece The Death and Life of Great American Cities. She’s talking about the importance of the (populated) sidewalk in a city as a sensemaking device – “the constant succession of eyes” is the flow of people who observe, stay aware, update their sense of what’s going on, share or actively inhibit patterns such as fashions, behaviours, opportunities.

In a sense, all of social software picks up this idea of a constant flow of eyes by providing the feedback loop that turns content on the web into a virtual sidewalk, where perceived patterns can be shared. The idea has been picked up explicitly by IBM’s Watson Labs (more specifically their Visual Communication Lab) in an experiment called Many Eyes. It’s a social site for creating and sharing and discussing information visualisations with some really nice visualisation tools to play with. Here’s the idea behind the site – what interested me particularly (apart from the visualisations) was the link to storytelling:

“Many Eyes is a bet on the power of human visual intelligence to find patterns. Our goal is to “democratize” visualization and to enable a new social kind of data analysis… In 2003, Fernanda created a program to visualize an individual’s email archives. Given the personal nature of email, when she ran a study on the visualization she took great pains to ensure that each person’s visualization would be completely private. But to her surprise, many of the study participants immediately sought out ways to share the images, mailing screenshots around or just calling friends over to see the program in action. This experiment revealed the intensely social side of visualizations, where discussion and storytelling are just as important as data analysis.”

You need to register to use it and there seem to be problems right now with the register function (it’s IBM)... but well worth a visit and a bit of patience. Thanks to Cory Banks via actKM for this link.

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