An Israeli website is trying to make sense of the millions, even billions of photos, charts, and other bits of data that make up an important front in the Israel-Hamas war — the on-line information battle.
Supporters and opponents of Israel are lining up on opposite sides of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and on-line news site forums. Posts, tweets, messages, and images have expanded into a huge data ball that no human could have got a grip on — until data visualization tools, like Gephi, stepped in to deal with the data mess.
The old saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words, but in the age of big data, “a thousand” is not even a tiny bit it. Today, if you want to tell a story with graphics, you need tools that can handle the many millions of pieces of information that need to be processed. Data visualization tools, some free and some expensive, do just that. DadaViz, a new website by five Israeli entrepreneurs, aims to be the on-line home of those visualizations.
An especially controversial incident, the alleged Israeli attack on a Gaza school, illustrates what’s happening. “That visualization was one of our most popular so far,” said DadaViz’s León Markovitz. “It was originally placed on another site, and its author posted it on DadaViz to get it more exposure.” The visualization (seen above), by Gilad Lotan, represents the way Twitter accounts lined up to report the incident at the at the UNWRA school in Beit Hanoun, recorded between July 25th and 30th.
“Nodes are Twitter handles, and their connections represent who follow relationships,” said Lotan in a blog post explaining the visualization. “The larger a node, the higher its centrality, the more followed that account is within this group. The closer together two nodes, the more connections they share. Different colors represent communities, effectively regions that display significant levels of connectivity; nodes of the same color are much more interconnected compared to the rest of the graph.” Green represents Twitter accounts and connections with more pro-Hamas messages, gray circles neutral journalist and news feeds, the light blue are pro-Israel feeds, and the darker blue are US conservatives who are pro-Israel.
The data used in the visualization were taken from an engine that monitored Twitter and gave a rating to each tweet, classifying it as more pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian. The tool used by Lotan was Gephi, an open-source visualization tool that features lots of layout and design tricks to allow users to create visually stunning graphs — putting into pictures a wide range of data that, with one look, puts into perspective what would likely have taken many pages of text to get across.
The Gaza tweet visualization is just one of many already hosted by DadaViz, which is run by Markovitz — an immigrant to Israel from Venezuela — along with immigrants to Israel from France, Ukraine, the Netherlands, and a “token” native-born Israeli as well. “We’re like a United Nations, with a cacophony of languages working together to accomplish something positive,” Markovitz said.
Each visualization lists the tools used to create it, the sources of the data, and a link to the original site where the visualization appeared. Among the visualizations on DadaViz: Graphs and maps showing the impact of Ebola on West Africa, based on World Health Organization numbers; a map and table showing taxi usage and trips in New York City for all of 2013; how people in Moscow are using social media network Pulse; a graphic map of the global prisoner population by country; a global map of Internet penetration and usage, and many more. New visualizations are added daily, and the site sends out a daily newsletter that features the best of the crop for that day.
DadaViz started out as a project on the Wikibrains website, which specializes in bubble visualization maps. ‘Our part of the project proved to be so popular we decided to set it up as a separate site,” said Markovitz.
The site is just starting out, and Markovitz has many ideas for the future, including a reorganization of the site to make it more user-friendly and offering open-source visualization tools on the site. “We are taking it slow, but we know it is going in the right direction. We see it as becoming the YouTube of data visualization,” said Markovitz. “When people see these graphics, they get very excited. We have definitely touched a nerve.”