More ding-dong on the authority of Wikipedia recently, with much of the debate swirling around Many-2-Many.
Clay Shirky posted something that caught my eye there today, which is to side-step the argument with information design.
He proposes a ‘dashboard’ for each entry, allowing the browser to make his or her own mind up to the veracity of the information by making transparent the contributions and changes to that entry over time.
This, to me, was precisely what Martin Wattenburg was exploring with his History Flow project for IBM, but using visualisations to allow one to assess the ‘shape’ of the entry’s evolution quickly.
Teaming this up with Edward Tufte’s Sparklines concept i.e. visualisations of supplementary information inline to the main text led me to mock-up something that gives the user Clay’s “trust profile per item” married with Martin’s visualisation effect to give a quick idea to the user of the entry’s history.: Historyflow sparklines.
I have used the examples that Wattenburg et al have in their project gallery on the IBM site for speed, but the project screenshots appear to be a couple of years old, so they do not reflect the current state of the wikipedia entries.
First example: Iraq
Iraq’s entry seems to have a ‘hockey-stick’ trajectory, with a marked upsurge in changes as the the conflict there occurred. There is also a discontinuity, where there must have been some controversy, ‘damage’ and repair.
Shrinking this down to “Sparkline” size, e.g. 25px high, flipping it vertically (which seems to make more sense to me, sorry Martin…) and putting it inline to the ‘history’ tab gives you something like the image on the right. [Image missing]
The information seems to hold up even at sparkline-scale, and this was just with me doing a very sloppy job in 5 minutes of photoshop. An auto-generated sparkline with proper data and definition would work well I think.
So, what about a non-controversial example?
In the History Flow gallery, the entry for “Love” seems to be a lot calmer and less choppy:
Here again, a very quick mock-up of the History Flow plot embedded as a sparkline in the tabs of the Wikipedia entry.
Here, it can be quickly seen that this is an entry that has not seen rapid growth and has been relatively stable.
Although this needs a lot more work, I think there is the germ of something here; and would appreciate the thoughts of those who are more knowledgable about data visualisation (paging Martin W, Joshua S., and Tom Carden to the white courtesy phone) on whether this is worthwhile / do-able.
I guess the major flaw in this compared to Clay’s mini-changelog report on each entry, is that its a graphic abstraction that you would have to become familiar with the meaning of before it became useful.
Personally, as with History Flow, I think it is fairly immediate its meaning, and as a dynamic, constantly changing visual ‘bug’ on the otherwise frugal wikipedia page-design it would pique people’s curiosity to find out what it meant and/or click on the history tab.
I don’t really like web UI’s where there is a symbol or button and someone has had to supplement it with a ‘[what does this mean?]’ hyperlink by the side of it – and I don’t believe that historyflow sparklines would need that. It might be enough for the data that Clay is pulling out into his mini changelog to present itself when the user hovers the mouse over the sparkline bug, creating an association between the graph and the data.
Anyway – quickly done, but I think there’s something there.
Beyond Wikipedia, to the increasing production and use of ‘we-media’ there is an information design problem to be solved here, and it would be great to see more people trying to solve it rather than arguing about ‘authority’