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    Aug 30, 2007

    Digg Arc History

    Digg Arc is the lastest addition to our continuing work for Digg Labs. The piece has seen several weeks of development and experimentation and three phases of development punctuated by two successive public releases. This is a visual diary of its creation, shared by Shawn Allen, Tom Carden, and me, Michal Migurski.

    Arc began in Shawn's hands. We started with a few basic experiments in circular layout and basic arc geometry. At first, these took the form of simple interactive wireframes to prove that our math was right. We quickly attached these initial sketches to the Digg Flash Kit, and connected them to a source of real data.

    Early interactive arc geometry experiments

    First view showing shapes derived from real data

    Our early work centered on a kind of visual stress-testing: during periods of heavy Digg user activity, how much data could Arc display while staying legible? We spent several evenings tweaking display parameters and leaving the results running for long periods of time to see how an unfiltered stream of data would behave. Would it be possible to show hundreds of stories and users? Could the user arcs on the outside of the center circle be improved with transparency and hard edges?

    Before there were display limits

    Experimental addition of arc outlines and layering

    When I finished and delivered Arc's first public release, we limited the stories on the edge to a minimum of 10 pixels or so, and kept the focus on the story display in the center. The initial text design for the focal circle was imported from Swarm.

    First public release of Arc

    After its first release, Tom began working on a followup adjustment. This has been a pattern with several of our pieces for Digg Labs: early release, followed by community feedback and subsequent updates. Arc could benefit most from explicit indication of user activity, better visual distinctions between topics and containers, some improvements in mouse interaction.

    First experimental appearance of user names

    Shrinking arcs down to paths

    Some of the rendering glitches and experiments during development were gorgeous:

    A beautiful mistake

    Another interesting glitch

    Experimental blurring of focal area

    The final piece changed the appearance of the arcs, labeled them explicitly with site users, and introduced better interaction and control of the reactive piece.

    Second public release

    Play with the final piece at labs.digg.com/arc.

    Without Limits

    For some reason that third graphic, before there were limits, looks super sexy to me. Of course without limits the viz isn't incredibly useful, but nevertheless...

    Great work, guys.

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