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EagerEyes Turns 15

EagerEyes is 15 years old today! Rather than look back at 15 years of visualization and blogging (though I will do a little of that too), I want to reflect a bit on what blogging means today and where things are going.

Blogging Is Over

It would be easy to think that blogs are old-school and nobody pays attention to them anymore. I don't think that's true, but they certainly have a lot more competition today. There's the well-established social media like Facebook and Twitter, there's the newer ones like TikTok, SnapChat, Clubhouse, there's YouTube, there are podcasts, etc.

Back in 2006, when I started doing this, blogging was still a thing. People had blogs. Wikipedia still calls Twitter (which had only launched earlier in 2006!) microblogging. Academics had only just discovered blogging (hey, I was an academic back then!), though they still haven't really embraced it.

It seems that email newsletters are finally really happening, with tinyletter and especially Substack. But blogging hasn't really gone away. Medium is blogging, it's just a specific service. The Data Visualization Society's Nightingale blog seems to be going well, and there are many others. The line between long-winded Twitter threads and blogs can be blurred at times.

Is Video Next?

I used to value being able to write about data visualization and getting people interested in the more or less meta discussions about the subject. I think Moritz Stefaner made a comment once about how he hadn't thought that you could write so many words about visualization without pictures. Of course the joke's on him, because he went on to launch the Data Stories podcast about visualization with Enrico Bertini (or maybe I'm completely wrong about who said it and the joke's really on me in the end).

I launched my YouTube channel a little over two years ago, and I'm very actively working on more videos (the next one should land next week). While I still think that writing about visualization is important, I also think that it's silly to neglect the more visual media. It's called visualization, after all. So why are there so few videos about it? And most of what exists are tutorials about how to make things in various tools. Where's the fun? Where's the visual exploration? Where are the visual explanations of visual representations?

Linear vs. Quadratic Change Thumbnail
One of my attempts at visually explaining visualization

That is what I set out to do with my videos, and I think I really hit my stride with the last couple of them. If you stopped paying attention because you didn't care to watch my face talking at you, check out the video I made about Iraq's Bloody Tolland the one about linear vs. quadratic change before that. This new style with all motion graphics is clearly the way to go, and I've finally figured out how to make that work. All my future videos will be like this, no more talking head!

There's an enormous opportunity here I think, both in terms of using video as a medium for visualization (again, this seems so obvious I can barely even type it, but who does it?) and to explore what motion can do for visualization. Most people seem to have written it off based on a handful of studies, but I think those all miss the point. Motion can help people understand what's going on, there's a reason there are so many instructional videos on YouTube. We just need to figure out how to do this for visualization.

How EagerEyes Has Changed

This site has changed quite a bit over the years. On my About page, I still maintain that it's not a blog. Of course, virtually all postings over the last couple of years have been in the blog category. And who am I kidding, this is clearly a blog.

The reason for my insistence that it's not is that I always wanted to build more tools. As I mentioned in the riveting EagerEyes Origin Story, I initially wanted to build a social data visualization website, similar to Many Eyes (if anybody remembers that, it came and went too quickly). I did build a few, but they mostly became obsolete or stopped worked (remember Java? Yeah, I built a couple things here in Java). Perhaps the only thing that really survives, and only because I rebuilt it a couple of times, is the ZIPScribble Map.

A snapshot of the site in 2011, shortly after the 5-year mark, courtesy of the Internet Archive

I won't dwell on the past here, but it's fun to look back at how dorky this thing looked a while ago. This is also the logo that was so cleverly parodied by the excellent eagerpies website, which is online again.

At the 10-year blogoversary five years ago, I launched a big redesign of the site. That was the first time I paid for design for this site (other than buying WordPress themes for a few dollars), both to get a custom-designed logo and theme. I'm still happy with the logo, but I'm increasingly unhappy with the look of the site. Not sure when I'll get around to updating it, but once I do it will look more like a blog again. It also likely will be a static site rather than WordPress, but that's also one of the things slowing down progress on this project considerably.

How I Have Changed

One category of post here used to be making fun of bad visualizations. I haven't done this in years now, and I have no intention of doing it ever again. It was fun for a while, but it has really run its course. It just doesn't seem productive. I see people do it on Twitter, and I mostly want to defend the targets of the outrage. In fact, this might turn into a post category here once I feel like writing more again, and I did include a bit of that in my most recent videos.

Partly this change is clearly due to age, since I've gotten 15 years older in the time this blog has been around – though not everybody seems to be getting mellower or wiser with age. I don't intend to end up being the old man yelling at clouds. Life is too short for that.

What I want to do instead is figure out what to do here that is of value. I do think that making videos has value, even though getting people to actually watch them has been a challenge. But this isn't unlike the early days of this blog when nobody would read it. It's just not a topic people look for on YouTube. The next few videos will be on broadly interesting topics in the hope that I can get more people interested in.

Just like the frequency of posts here has slowed down, I also haven't felt the need to tweet nearly as much as I used to. I think this is again a change in what I feel is valuable, though also a reflection of how much time I spend on Twitter these days (a lot less than I used to).

Where to Next

So where is this thing going? I've been asking this question almost continuously over the years. And I still don't think I have an answer. I do have a long list of topics I want to write about, little apps I want to build, and certainly videos I want to make. It's hard to figure out where to best spend time, and the videos are a lot of work.

But this blog has been incredibly helpful to get word out about my work and that of others in the visualization research community. And I think that's a worthwhile thing to keep doing.

To another 15?

Posted by Robert Kosara on October 1, 2021. Filed under meta.