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Turning Data Into Art

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For Wired magazine executive editor Thomas Goetz, it was an opportunity to transform mountains of data into meaningful art.

With Adobe, he curated InForm: Turning Data into Meaning on AMDM, an online exhibit of the works of ten graphic artists that shows how significant digital information is in people's lives -- of how our social lives are digitally quantified.

"Basically, I wanted to use the digital medium of the web to show data visualization -- to show it in a new and robust way," he says. "I landed on showing how digitalized people's lives are, through Skype, tweets and Facebook -- the part of our lives we do online."

He sought not just to depict the visualization of online data, but the beautiful and compelling aspects of it as well. For example, one artist graphically depicts the number of tweets broadcast in the minutes leading up to New Year's Day in Amsterdam -- and then the dramatic and exuberant spikes in tweets just as the new year arrives. (See the data here.)


"When you go online, you think you're spending time in a digital reality -- that's the conventional wisdom," he says. "You think it's not much more meaningful than if you're watching television. But that's changing -- now you can actually see what you're doing."

As curator, one of his challenges lay in finding the artists and designers who could take that experience and turn it into something beautiful visually. He found a number of them from the pages of his own magazine, and the exhibit celebrates a new generation of visual pioneers -- part graphic designer, part statistician, part artist -- who have a facility for turning data into meaning.


The commissioned images are based on data sets gathered from across the Internet centering on three themes: Wikipedia as a crowd-sourced network with constantly evolving data; how the Twitter platform of followers, interactions and re-tweeting ranks its various users; and the impact and fluidity of an online financial social network.

See more about the exhibit here.

For more by J. Michael Welton, visit his Web site.