Visual Poetry (mimicking TextArc the bad way?)
Today I returned to this post found at infosthetics about the visual theme developed this year for Poetry on the Road, an international literature festival which is held every year in Bremen, Germany.
At first, I was really impressed by the beautifulness of this image but I couldn't easily get the meaning of it all (which is already a bad sign when looking at a new visualization). Now I've spent some more time on it and I am less and less convinced of its design.
I try to summarize how it is made:
- Each word appearing in a poem is encoded with a number. Assigning "a numerical value to every letter of the alphabet. Adding the values of all letters, one gets a number that represents the overall word. (For example, the number 99 would represent the word "poetry".)"
- Each poem is arranged around one ring in a way that the diameter is proportional to the poem's lenght. "So you can see the short poems in the centre of the poster, while the longer ones form the outer circles."
- Each number is depicted by a red ring, whose thickness is based on the number of words corresponding to the number "(poetry shares the 99 with words like thought and letters)"
- Each word of the poem (the red ring) is connected to another by grey lines, following the the sequence of the text. "So solid lines represent repetitive patterns in the poem."
I cannot get any interesting trend or inspiring emerging pattern from it. Such kind of visualizations are nice when you can exclaim: "Ah ah! Here is something in the text I couldn't really get without a visualization!". Here the only visible trend I can get is the darkest lines, which are supposed to represent repetitive patterns in the poem; a quite standard pattern in pieces of literatures like these.
As often happens, interaction is almost completely neglected. It would be nice to have a way to highlight the repetitive patterns, so that they can be readily explored. Or even select one word and see which repetitive patterns it generates with other words. And also, given that short poems are in the center, where resolution is low, it is not clear if the darkest lines are a product of extreme overlap or because there are many repetitive sequences.
Finally, it is not clear why a whole circumference is used when only half of it is used to lay out the small red rings. The reason why it is so, I guess, is that the words are connected by "splines" which are used to avoid crossing the center of the circumference, but that at the same time cannot make a whole circle.
The whole thing reminds me of TextArc, probably the most famous visualization of such kind. But it is incredible how much much more informative and cleverly designed (and still beautiful, inspiring, and artistic) it is compared to this one.
Creating beutiful images to impress people is relatively easy, while making visualizations to explore, enable profound insights, and see the invisible, is extremely harder and requires a lot more devotion than this.