Finding visualization projects and pretty pictures on the web isn’t exactly difficult, but what about actual research? What if you wanted to know what’s going on in visualization, and get a sense of what current work is the most interesting? There is no resource for this that I’m aware of, but there should be.
I’m currently in Washington, D.C., where I spoke at the DC Data Vis meetup last night (that was not my main reason for coming, but it worked out nicely). One of the questions I got afterwards was from a journalist who wanted to know how he could follow developments in the field. I didn’t have a good answer.
What We Lack
It’s a really interesting question because it highlights how bad we are as a field in communicating our research. Here are some ways you can currently follow what is going on in visualization. And yes, I will talk mainly about information visualization, but scientific visualization is doing much worse.
- You can read the journals. TVCG, InfoVis, CGF, CG&A. Of course to do that, you’ll need subscriptions to all of them, or access to three different digital libraries (IEEE, Eurographics, and Sage). Not exactly ideal. And then, you just get all the papers, but no curation or context. Which of these are really new stuff, which are just minor improvements of existing work? Also, you’re missing all the relevant work in HCI, cognitive psychology, etc., but there is no way you’re going to read all those journals to pick out what’s relevant.
- You can go to conferences, like IEEE VIS and EuroVis. That way, you’ll see presentations and you’ll be able to talk to researchers and people in the field. But aside from the time commitment and expense, each of these only happens once a year. What do you do the rest of the year?
- You can read blogs. I’ve written summaries of conferences and the odd posting about particular papers (though mostly my own). But the conference summaries tend to only flag papers and give very little context. In addition, you can wait for Stephen Few to rip a paper apart, but he also only does that once or twice a year, thankfully.
- Set a Google Scholar alert. Those are really hit-or-miss, though, and it’s very difficult to pick good keywords to match, so you don’t miss too much but also don’t get completely inundated with irrelevant stuff.
And that’s really it. At least, I can’t think of anything else.
A Visualization Research Blog
What do we need? Here are some thoughts for the ideal visualization digest blog/website/service.
- Pick out interesting research. Somebody needs to make a judgment what work is worthy of discussion. That requires somebody with some knowledge of the field and its current directions.
- Provide context. Just summarizing a paper is one thing, but pointing out similarities to and differences from other work make this much richer. This also requires somebody who knows the field.
- Summarize and explain. The key is clearly to summarize the findings or ideas or techniques in a way that people can understand. That might mean writing, it might mean asking the authors for their prototype and using it on some data, etc. Making this worthwhile might require a considerable amount of work.
- Keep feeding the pipeline. To keep a blog alive, you’d want to post at least one paper a week. You also need to have a pipeline set up, so that when the big VIS or EuroVis wave washes over you, you can fill it for the coming months, without overwhelming people with too many things at once.
There is clearly a lot of value in doing this, but I wonder who could do it. Most academics don’t care enough and don’t have the time. There probably needs to be a way for this to make money, and I don’t know if advertising alone would do that (probably not). Perhaps somebody can make this a paid service, but I have no idea if there is enough of a market for this (most media outlets aren’t exactly swimming in money).
I really hope that somebody will do this, but I’m not holding my breath. What I will do, starting next year, is discuss more papers – both current ones and older ones. I’m not committing to a schedule here, but once a month seems like a reasonable rhythm. We’ll see how this works out. There’s certainly a lot of interesting work out there that would deserve a broader audience.