I'm proud to say that Stamen has released our first product, Eddy. It's is a media aggregation platform built for the public display of up-to-the-minute activity on realtime services like Twitter. As we designed more and more media projects using Twitter data, we found ourselves needing a simple, straightforward tool to collect, moderate and curate fast-moving conversation flows. Eddy is the result. It's deliberately simple: it doesn't do sentiment analysis, generate fancy reports, or claim to give you a window into how people feel about your brand—there are plenty of tools and companies that do that already. What it does really well—and, most importantly, really fast—is to turn a skull-bendingly large number of live tweets into simple, well-structured data that can be used to build realtime interactive visualizations of Twitter.
We've been using it for projects for MTV and the NBC Olympics, and are currently using it to visualize realtime twitter traffic about the NBA playoffs for Nike, and you can read all about it on Twitter's blog and at http://eddy.stamen.com.
So that, among a large number of other things, I can spend more time blogging and thinking and creative directing, we're hiring an Executive Producer for Stamen:
It's time for us to bring on a full time Executive Producer to reduce the silence in the studio. Our growing field of opportunities and active projects means that we are managing much larger and more complicated projects across a broad spectrum of industries. We are interested someone who can manage long-term sustainable processes to support Stamen as a close-knit community of designers and developers.
In addition, we need someone to track, coordinate and actively manage: who's working on what, who needs to know about it, what stage is it at, what comes next, and what should we do now to make sure we're ready? We are looking to be asked: what do you need, from who, in order to do the thing that you need to do? Did you get it? If not, why, and how do we make sure that it doesn't happen again? And so on, in an overall and strategic sense as well as in a day-to-day sense. This is a position for a senior level person who can keep their eye on the big picture and relishes getting their hands dirty in the nitty-gritty of project development, client services and strategic production.
Details here. If this sounds like you or someone you know, please get in touch.
MIke and Shawn and I are at South by Southwest until Thursday, soaking in the sun and the barbecue and one panel after another. Mike's put together a good list of tools to get in touch with him; I'm a little less organized this time. Luckily, so are the conference organizers; my talk ("Interactive Infographics") and Mike's talk ("Maps, Books, Spimes, Paper: Post-Digital Media Design") are both happening at the exact same time (3:30 on Tuesday)—so we'll have to see how that works out. Maybe some kind of hyperspace tunnel between the ballrooms.
So from time to time I kick myself for not being as disciplined as, say Matt Webb, who seems to be able to effortlessly kick out a weekly digest of his studio's activities. It's important, I tell myself. It's a great way to get your ideas out there, I say, with some guilt. Writing things down is a great way to figure out what you think, I remind myself. And yet thus far I've only managed to do it three times.
But I submit to you that if this city could please stop throwing HUGE FREAKING RAINBOWS up right outside my window when I'm trying to get something done, followed by driving hail which of course needs to be scooped off the window ledges, and then followed by even more enormous double rainbows coming off the tip of the pointy building, I might have an easier time of it, and maybe even get a little writing done.
And if Stamen ever becomes a place where we can't interrupt a meeting to run out into the street and look at rainbows, will someone please punch me in the neck?
One of the great things about being involved with projects like twitter visualizations of the Olympics is being able to look back at an event that basically the whole world is paying attention to, and seeing the way that attention was focused at events that make their way into culture and our collective memory. Sunday's game between the US and Canada, for example—the thrill of victory! the agony of defeat! It's increasingly becoming possible to look at and measure the impact that these moments have on the culture at large.
What follows are a series of graphs showing twitter activity related to the Olympics, at several seminal moments during the Games. Time is along the bottom, and tweets per minute (that we determined were related to the Games) are the vertical axis. Everything's archived at the NBC Olympics site, and should be for a while.
Each of these graphs links to NBC's twitter tracker at the time shown by the graph. Note that these graphs omit any mention of "NBC" or "Olympics." These terms were blowing out the visualization to the detriment of the live twitter coverage; including these words would make the numbers significantly higher.
Mike's told stories about his experience at disaster preparedness camp, where you can tell who's highest ranked in the room because he's the one hunched in the corner poring over a spreadsheet, doing the boring grunt Excel work that no one else can be bothered to do. If this is true then Tom was definitely the top gun last night; I never knew that getting numbers to show at the bottom of a graph would take up a whole evening's work. Thanks for the help!
I've been feeling for some time now that the data visualization space is about to go completely bananas, where "bananas" means "taken for granted" in the sense that no major cultural event will feel complete without a corresponding live data visualization. The breadth and depth of the conversation happening on twitter around the Olympics is just blowing my mind, as tragedy and farce and pop culture and stardom roll together—but remain distinct and understandable—in a display that's changing minute-by minute as I look at it.
The project is live here.
The last few weeks have been something of a whirl, as we pulled all the pieces together to make this happen. Stamen is responsible for the backend and moderation piece of the production this time (much more about this later),* so the project has pulled all the parts of the studio together in a way that's deeply satisfying. The 5 of us sitting around the same table in the big sun room, cranking like mad, sending instant messages to people sitting 2 feet from us so as not to get them too distracted, reminded me of the old days when Mike and I used to sit in a tiny room smoking cigarettes and coding our fingers off. Except now the space is nicer and bigger, we have a great support team to back us up & keep things moving smoothly, there's a whole lot less smoking going on, and—it's the Olympics!!
*The smarties at Swarm Collective are managing the content side of things, and doing a great job of it. Hire them for this kind of job if you can.
Ben took our show on the road yesterday, speaking about live data visualization at the Webtrends Engage conference in New Orleans. I really like the format that the presentations were in: twice as wide as a normal slide deck and right behind the speakers, so Ben could stride the boards, point at interface elements, walk over to the project description, and so forth.
Image by justinogarrity
One of these days I'd really like to try this out; I find that if I can walk around on stage I sound alot more excited, wave my hands etc. If I'm stuck behind a podium I tend to drone a bit. In this regard I've been of course watching Hans Rosling's videos closely, where he bluescreens visualizations behind him—although he seems to have shifted to talking out of a little window lately instead, which seems like a shame.
Also, Sha is in LA today, speaking at a 'next generation content' event put on by our friends at Contagious Magazine (whose December 2008 writeup of the studio is the most thorough yet). Sha's also teaching a workshop called Neocartography: An Introduction to Interactive Mapping in Flash, and I'm delighted to see him stepping out and representing the studio in the ways that he is.
The Hope For Haiti telethon is winding down and by all accounts things the after party is going smoothly. The live map we designed & built for MTV is here, there's some conversation going on about it here, and it looks something like this when it's in full swing:
It's early Saturday morning in Munich, and I'm boning up on my cultural bona fides for Monday's talk. It's cold and dark but the general gemütlichkeit of the place is more than making up for it.
Mike & Sha just left the studio for LA, where they're putting the finishing touches on a twitter visualization for use during MTV's Hope for Haiti telethon tomorrow. More on this as it progresses, but I'm very excited about this one. We're going to be visualizing live activity around the world during the telethon, similar to our previous work with MTV, but this time the project will be running off a Stamen-built backend and moderating system that Mike & Aaron and Tom have been working on for these kinds of events. It looks like the telethon will be broadcast on multiple networks, and I'll post a URL when I've got one.
Meanwhile I'm at SFO, waiting for my flight to London on the first leg of a trip to Munich where I'll be participating in a panel on "Maps for the 21st Century," hosted by Hans Ulrich Obrist as part of the DLD conference that's taking place there this weekend. I'm hoping to get a 2009 year in review post together while I'm away—maybe on the plane. It's tough to look back when there's this much happening!
We're back in the saddle again after closing the studio for the last two weeks of December. It always confounds me how surprised people are when we say we'll be closed for that long, as though it were excessive. That amount of time feels to me about the minimum I'd want to genuinely start to unwind, and if we didn't close the studio we'd basically get nothing done except coordinate who was and wasn't around. I took the time to drive down to Santa Barbara via Highway 1 & stare at the water with my wife and do very little else, which was just about perfect.
In any event we're back, and a few interesting things are starting to happen. We're as booked up as we've ever been, which is marvelous but brings its own kinds of stresses—how are we going to get all this work done in a way that still leaves room for invention, discovery and play—and Deborah and I are spending an ever-growing amount of time working out schedules and planning. A resolution the studio's committed to for 2010 is that no project will ever have less than 2 people working on it—if we learned anything last year it's that we're stronger when we lean on each other, and that getting lost in the details of a project is much less likely when you've got someone who's intimately familiar with what you're working on.
A little about what's coming up—we're continuing to work with MTV and Twitter on real-time spectacle/analysis of what the internet thinks, and Mike is taking a close look at how that all fits together, in addition to speaking down at Stanford today on some map-related work we'd like to do. Shawn is continuing to work with the London Olympics on refinements to their map, and the two of us spent some time today looking into the datasets of two projects we're considering taking on. Tom, Sha and Aaron have been working on a project for CNET mapping wireless signals (more on that soon), specifically for a demo at CNET's CES booth in Vegas this week, at which (apparently) Drew Carey stopped by to chat:
And Geraldine continues to refine just about everything we touch. We had our first Dreams and Aspirations meeting for the year, and the studio feels very much on the same page to me; we have some differences about the sizes of jobs we'd like to be doing (lots of little projects? a few giant ones? how many independent projects?), but I know we'll deal with those the way we always do, through lots of talking and responding to changes in the business & creative opportunities that come our way as the year goes.
As for me, I'm settling in: trying to get the website back in order after a busy 2009 (there're a pile of projects that need posting), spending about half my time on the phone with potential new clients, and adding some patina to the studio in the form of maps (see the first photo—an amazing bathymetric set of maps of the world I found in Santa Barbara), hooks, books and plants. HQ2 is very different from HQ1—for one thing, there's room enough to spread 20 feet of map on the floor, and hang 11 feet long maps of Africa that I bought at the flea market last Sunday—and it has a bit less of that Sam Spade feel (since I've never actually lived here). I'm reading Ove Arup's biography and Steve Martin's autobiography, thinking about the lives of these men and the levels they operate(d) at and how they worked hard and how their dreams came true. I walk into the studio just about every day with a sense of real possibility and calm; the space calms me down and lifts me up at the very same moment, if that's possible.