Two Years of EagerEyes
This site turns two today. There have been frantic periods of posting and periods of silence. There have been times when I thought nobody would read this and times when I had more than 50,000 visitors in a day. Here is a bit of history, some thoughts on what the site has accomplished, and what I am planning for the future.
The idea for the site goes back about five years. I wanted to write about visualization and art, and have a platform for a bit of outside-the-box thinking. In August 2004, I registered the domain. The idea came from another website called equaleyes. It had a nice ring to it, but something was missing. When I came up with "eager eyes," I immediately bought the domain name. I still haven't gotten much feedback on whether it sounds good or dorky or weird, but I like it. In any case, I'm stuck with it.
It took me another two years to get the site running. There were some embarrassing early versions with my custom made CMS and nonsensical articles. I also wanted to build something similar to Many-Eyes and Swivel for some time, until I realized that I simply couldn't do that by myself. Another thing that took forever was finding the right content management system. There are simply too many, and I was very picky about things like URLs, caching, etc. I spent way too much time on this, but I'm happy with my choice now.
What is the mission of this site? I guess to put it in as few words as possible, it is to shake up visualization. While this is still a very young field, it already seems to be set in its ways, and I don't think we should be at that point quite yet. In fact, I hope that this field stays alive and flexible for a long time, so it can grow and change. And I don't think we even begin to understand how visualization even works, let alone how we can use it for the most effective communication, representation, and insight.
This is not a blog. When people call this site my blog, I usually argue with them. The goal is to organically build a website over time that will have some more or less well-organized information about visualization methods, basics, applications, etc. Part of it is a blog, yes, but that part is filed under the blog category. The other articles do appear in the feed when they are published, but they are meant to have a much longer lifetime than the usual blog entry. They are also longer, better researched, and take a lot more work to put together.
The round pegs in the square holes.
This site is also about original thought and projects, rather than rehashing or pointing at what other people do. Because, let's face it, that is exactly what most blogs do, including a few visualization blogs. I have no interest in that. Of course, this means that I can't update this site every day. Projects like the ZIPScribble Map, the iTunes Store Visualization, the square pie chart redesign, Presidential Demographics, etc. take time. Plus, I also have a day job.
The ones who see things differently.
This site is about passion. I criticize what others do, and I can be very frank in my criticism. But I scare because I care. I want to get my readers' attention, and I want to point out things that I think are wrong. Some of my statements may be harsh, a bit more sweeping than is called for, and sometimes maybe wrong. But among reasonable adults, I think a frank and open discussion must be possible. And just as I am ready to dole out criticism, I am very receptive of what others have to say about my points of view.
They're not fond of rules.
At times, this site has been a bit of an echo chamber. There is the odd comment, but not a lot of discussions have started. I can't believe that the hundreds of people who visit this site every day all agree with what I am writing here. This is doubly true for my regular visitors who subscribe to the RSS or Atom feed. Why don't you say something? Don't be content with mere consumption! Let me know if you agree or disagree. Tell me what I missed. Tell me I'm wrong. Tell me what you think we need to talk about. Let's put all that fancy Web 2.0 technology to work.
And they have no respect for the status quo.
So the goal for the next year will be to make this site more open for discussion, and start a bit more of a conversation. I am not the person for cheap provocation to get discussions going, they have to happen naturally. But by providing the means and perhaps some starting points, I hope to foster more comments and discussions than have happened so far. I have recently changed the settings so comments appear immediately without my approval. That approval step was there after some initial problems with spam, but that is well under control now.
You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them,
I am not planning any radical changes, but there are a few things I want to do. One is a live-microblog from InfoVis and VAST in three weeks. Other things include more interactive visualization applets, more open-source visualization software, and potentially a discussion forum (if the current stream of comments continues). I have also been trying to talk people into contributing articles, but have not been successful so far.
disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them.
This is a non-commercial website. I make it a point not to have advertising, not to post affiliate links, and not to sell anything through this site. This is my naïve little contribution to a better world. I share because I care.
About the only thing you can't do is ignore them.
What has the site achieved? It has certainly helped me get recognized. As egotistical as it may seem, it is a great feeling to email an influential, senior InfoVis person to ask for a list of influences and then be told that he or she knows the site and is happy to oblige. I have also been greeted by strangers as "Mr. EagerEyes" at conferences and been told by others that the site has changed their view of visualization.
Because they change things.
That's a good start, but the next step is to get people to actually act on that, to ask questions and to demand more foundational work in InfoVis, more InfoVis for communication, and a deeper understanding of how it all works. All of that exists in one way or another, but it is not enough. We don't understand our own field, and we need to change that.