December’s infographic delights

Emoji, open data, satellites, Hans-Ulrich Obrist’s maps and death.

Open Data can hurt you. In his thought-provoking book “To Save Everything, Click Here,” Evgeny Morozov warns of the dangers of Open Data, including maps that show crime statistics across different neighborhoods. While such maps could allow the police to identify problematic areas and help people make more informed decisions about where to live, they could potentially make it harder for residents of risky neighborhoods to sell their properties and also isolate them from the rest of the city. As a result, those who already live in these areas might be less willing to report crime in the first place. This effect could influence many other statistics that rely on individuals to report information, from noise pollution levels to religious affiliation. P.S.: To read Morozov’s latest piece on Big Data, click here.

More on maps. Hans-Ulrich Obrist, the Swiss superstar curator and cofounder of 89plus, is the editor of a new book called “Mapping It Out: An Alternative Atlas of Contemporary Cartographies” that features more than 140 maps by contemporary artists, scientists and philosophers. Damien Hirst, for example, contributed a (partially censored) hand-drawn map that shows how to get to his home, including the reminder “call first.” The beauty of the book is that it challenges the authority with which maps depict the truth. Maps distort a multidimensional reality onto a flat surface. As British author Tom McCarthy writes in the introduction, “[map] projections are not neutral, natural or ‘given’: they are constructed, configured, underpinned by various – and quite arbitrary – conventions.” P.S.: to discover HUO’s own map-making activities, check out the book of his frenetic-looking maps, sketches and diagrams.

Do you speak emoji? Smiling faces, piles of poop and other emotionally charged symbols are increasingly being used to communicate without words. There are at least three emoji-only social networks currently in development: Emojicate, and Steven. This summer, the Unicode Consortium announced that more than 250 new symbols – including an intriguing levitating man – would be added to the existing set of 722 characters already available on smartphones. If you like emoji and pictograms, have a look at these two books: Xu Bing’s graphic novel “Book from the Ground,” composed entirely of universally understood symbols and icons, and Juli Gudehus’ “Genesis,” edited by Lars Müller Publishers.

The New York Times homepage has 300+ links. That’s a rather big number compared to the roughly 20 articles featured on the front page of the print edition. In his book “Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection,” MIT media scholar Ethan Zuckerman points out that the paper version is designed to steer you to a story you might not have expected: “It shows the curator’s agenda, her sense that an international story is so important that it should occupy valuable front-page real estate.” The online version, in contrast, trusts us to know what kind of news we’re looking for. But can we choose wisely without curatorial assistance? P.S.: Traffic to the Times homepage fell by half in the last two years.

Interactivity at its best. Bloomberg’s “How Americans Die” guides the viewer through a sequence of slides with large interactive data visualizations. On each slide, a short text sums up the displayed data in one main message. It also highlights statistical oddities that encourage the reader to dig further into the data. These journalistic add-ons make the entire piece very accessible and compelling. Another impressive interactive graphic has recently been published by Quartz. It shows all 1,200 active satellites currently orbiting Earth (note that there are almost three times that many inactive machines in orbit). The planet stands at the top of the page. Scrolling down allows you to see satellites that are farther away from the surface. P.S.: We’ve created static infographics on the same two topics: “How The Swiss Die,” in 2012, and “In Orbit But Hardly Alone,” earlier this year.


Do you want to collect, share and visualize environmental data on your city? Check out Swissnex San Francisco’s new global initiative “Data Canvas: Sense Your City.” One hundred participants from seven cities will receive DIY sensors that measure air quality, noise, pollution, light and temperature. Application deadline: December 5, 2014.

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