Yesterday I posted about wanting to map mental journeys - map movements through information and cyberspace. I'm not quite there yet. But this is the first step.
Any map generally provides a set of wayfinding points - explicit or implicit and a set of instructions. For example, here's how to get from the Pan Pacific Hotel to Seasons in the Park restaurant in Vancouver BC, via a story.
And here's a map
So, yesterday I told the (verbose) story of this map:
As we can see, this map is sort of a hybrid. If provides both the concepts and the context. It isn't as strict a visualization as the mapquest map is. The mapquest map however, does rely on non-visual cues for the reader. The map has street names, park names and "Start / End".
But what the maps allow one to do is quickly trace the flow of information from the start to the end of the story. While the Concept Map relies heavily on words, it is not nearly as verbose. You can very quickly trace the main concepts of the story in yesterday's post.
Now, the key to this cartography is that the geography is reliant on how I framed my own story or my argument. This is the map through my journey beginning at the intersection of Kevin Lynch and Peter Morville.
Maps, even those of merely land formations, always are in dispute. The map is not the terrain, as the quote goes. The terrain will always be open to interpretation (there's that word again). So all maps are visualizations and interpretations.
The concept map is not quite visual enough for me - but visualization techniques are complex and varied. I would imagine that there will be no set way to create a map of this conceptual terrain. Just as I can make you any number of maps of physical terrain (street maps, topographic maps, riparian maps).
With GIS, I overlay stories on physical maps. These can be heat maps, impact maps, movement maps, and so forth. As information needs to be digested quickly, maps can be simplified and as they are simplified they are more interpretive.
Here's a map-based application we did to show real-time traffic for MTC in the Bay Area. This is the traffic.511.org web site.
As you can see from this zoomed image, the map is somewhat simplified. Not quite a schematic, but not entirely showing every curve in the Bay Area freeway system. Our goal was to provide a highly readable map that didn't over-simplify and leave out visual cues for the locations of given congestion.
Another interesting thing here is the choice of symbology and colors to depict information. Here at the evening rush hour, we can see that there are bad and good parts in the familiar red / yellow / green color bands we've been raised on. Red = stop to yellow = slow to green = go is now an international color progression.
But what if you can't see the difference between red and green? The system provides a variety of color schemes to compensate for color blindness of macular degeneration.
This map is immediately bizarre to most people, but to people with red/green color blindness it is vital. And that's part of their story. By looking at this map now, we are getting even the slightest, strangest glimpse into the world of color blindness - simply through this visualization tool.
So maps can provide insights that might otherwise elude us. They provide alternate vocabularies with which to express ourselves. Stories are vital but there is more than one way to tell them. Here's an example:
There's a woman sitting. She's slightly smiling and kinda attractive in a forlorn sort of way. You're left wondering exactly what sort of mood she's in. Somewhere between happy and sad. Maybe feeling a touch of ennui. She watches the horizon for something unspoken.
Now, granted, my prose could have been better. And if the Mona Lisa had been written as a poem that may have been different. But it wasn't.
Next I will work on getting the CMap maps to be interactive. I seem to be having some trouble getting on their servers. I'd love to have a dialog with anyone who has ideas of interesting ways to visualize this. I'd also like it if people would send me links to any visualization tools out there and I'll start mapping stories in them and compare.
Written at the Star House Starbucks in Kowloon, Hong Kong with Windows Live Writer.