The Seven Year Itch
Eagereyes.org turned seven years old last week, on October 1st. Seven years is a long time on the web. In dog years, the site is almost fifty years old! Has it lost its edge? Have I gone soft? Where is the bite? Where is the fight?
This site has become a part of the establishment. Look who's hanging out in Dagstuhl, keynoting a data storytelling conference, and providing feedback to the Congressional Budget Office. Need more proof? There's even a parody site called eagerpies. You can’t parody something that isn't widely known, nobody would get it.
I have been accused of being behind that website myself, of course; sometimes in jest by friends, sometimes as an accusation by those who don’t like me. But here's the thing: I am not eagerpies, and I have no idea who runs the website. I'm not that desperate.
It's nice to have my own website (and Twitter account of the same name) to create a persona, an identity. It’s interesting to have people come up to me at conferences, saying “You’re eagereyes!” or get introduced as that when speaking at an event. But it also means that you turn soft and try to be nice. It's a trap.
Jumping the Shark
There is value in being nice. People don't want to read angry rant after angry rant. How about something that's useful for a change? A review of an amazing book, perhaps? Or some thoughts on leaving academia? Some basics on affordances, Venn diagrams, data types, aspect ratios, color maps? Perhaps an insight or two?
There is no value in just pointing to things, though. There has to be more than that. The web is filled with sites that post pretty pictures, lists of stuff, and other nonsense. Adding another one to this cacophony of crap makes no sense. It has no value. It's a waste of everybody's time.
There is good stuff out there. Bryan Connor's The Why Axis is a great example of thoughtful, deep analysis. Kaiser Fung's Junk Charts is also always worth a read. And for some snark, check out the new kid on the block, WTFViz. What is surprising (or maybe not) is how much of that is coming from outside the core visualization community, from statisticians and designers.
What I have noticed in looking at some of my old postings is that my writing is less pointed and direct these days, and lacks some of the sting the earlier stuff had. I clearly need to work on my form. Knuckles must crack, blood must flow.
And it still does. People got upset by my comparison of Many Eyes and Tableau Public last year. And I keep scratching that wound. I don't do this just to annoy people, but to point out an issue I see. One that bothers me.
Visualization is still treated like a joke by many people, including the people in the field. And with all the pretty pictures, it's just too easy. Which is exactly why a site like this is needed: to punch you in the face every once in a while, to shake you out of your comfy little dream world.
To make a dent, if not in the universe, then at least in the way we think about visualization.