IEEE VIS 2014 technically began on Saturday, with the first full day open to all attendees being Sunday. Monday continued the workshops and tutorials, and that is where we join our intrepid reporter.
VIS Social Run
The day started at 6:30am, when five fearless runners braved the cold and dark, and completed the inaugural VIS Social Run. It was a great run, about 5km in length, in (what I consider) perfect running weather (i.e., cool bordering on cold). While the darkness limited the sightseeing potential of the run, the early morning was great because it’s the time when all the boulangeries are baking their bread, so we got to suck in the delicious smells of fresh bread.
I’ve posted the route on Strava for all to enjoy. We even took a dorky, sweaty, blurry group selfie at the end.
We’re also running Wednesday morning and Friday morning, and potentially also Thursday. Stephen Kobourov might also do a longer run on Friday afternoon. Let me know if you want to join us, or just come to the Marriott at 6:30am.
I only saw part of the BELIV workshop (the name still stands for Beyond Time And Errors: Novel Evaluation Methods For Visualization). The papers there are well worth checking out though, because they represent some of the most interesting thinking about how to better evaluate visualization work.
Pierre Dragicevic gave a great keynote discussing the use of statistics in visualization. In particular, the use of p values, often without understanding them well, cherry-picking results, ignoring effect sizes, etc. Instead, using confidence intervals is a much better idea, because it provides much more information than the largely binary (and opaque!) significance test.
This is really important to make results more useful beyond just the individual paper, easier to compare in replication, and just generally more honest. Pierre and his group have a great website with lots of resources to explore.
Bernice Rogowitz has some good points in her questions after the talk, like the fact that using more than just the plain p values makes for much better way of telling the story of the analysis than the boring boilerplate stats you usually get. Walking the reader through the analysis also makes it easier to also include the weaker results instead of hiding them.
There was also a panel on tasks, which largely talked about task taxonomies. There was an odd lack of self-awareness on that panel, because for all the talk about tasks, there didn’t seem to be much thought about what people would actually do with those taxonomies. Who are the users of the taxonomies? What are their tasks? Is any of this work actually useful, or is it just done for its own sake? That struck me as particularly odd as part of this event.
I didn’t see the actual paper presentations, but BELIV generally has a good mix of interesting new thinking and interesting results from evaluations of visualization tools and systems.
On a related note, Steve Haroz has put together a great guide to evaluation papers at VIS this year.
Everything Except The Chart Tutorial
Among the more unusual things this year was Moritz Stefaner and Dominikus Baur‘s tutorial titled Everything Except The Chart. They talked about all the things web-based visualization project needs to be successful (other than the visuals): how to make it findable, how to make it shareable, various web technologies, etc. They did that based on their own projects, like Selfiecity, the OECD Better Life Index, etc.
The room was packed, which was interesting. Who knew academics actually cared about sharing their work with the world? Apparently, they do.
There was a lot of information in that tutorial, I will not even begin to try and summarize it all. They have published their slides, and also made some demo code available.
Perhaps the best summary of the tutorial is the project checklist they used to frame part of it:
- Is it findable?
- Does it draw you in?
- Is it enjoyable to use?
- Is it informative?
- “Why should I care?”
- Is it shareable?
These are questions anybody can ask themselves easily, and then figure out what to do about them. This includes simple things like hidden images and text to make the page easier to index for search engines and share/pin/etc. And it even includes things like a press kit, so journalists can write about your projects more easily (and get the best images).
While I wasn’t as excited about the long list of tools (bower, grunt, snort, blurt, fart, etc. – I may have made up a few of those, guess which!), they had lots of good points about making design responsive, having it work well (or at least be useable) on small screens, etc. None of this has ever been discussed at VIS before as far as I am aware, and it has the potential to have the largest impact for getting word out about the work we do in visualization. Now all the people who attended just need to actually put these things into practice.