World governments are chock full of public data. At best, it’s a messy pile of non-synthesized numbers available to the public. At worst, that “public” data is actually not so simple to obtain, and the numbers rot within stagnant databases.
Inspired by the advanced, micro-level visualizations at CERN, Even Westvang works in C++ to visualize public data. “We need to build an argument for why it’s important to release data,” Westvang writes us. “As I think running code and short films often carry an argument better than long-winded paragraphs (like this one) the conclusion is that we need compelling examples of the use of public data.”
In a recent project, Deluge, Westvang dug through 8 million tax returns to interpret the changes of postal codes found on the filings of 300,000 Norwegians. In other words, he tracked who moved where, and then he showed it in this entrancing particle visualization.
Created over “a couple of months of evenings after putting the kids to bed,” each person becomes a line on a 3-D map, explored through an ever-changing camera perspective. The effectiveness is in the subtlety: Rather than simply travel from point A to point B, each mover actually fades out as they reach their destination. And rather than showing us a full speed “Pachinko machine” of information, Westvang slows things down, crops, and curates the content.
It’s within these fireworks of editorial voice that the data comes to life. You can envision stories (and even stereotypes) that manifest in the patterns: Wealthy couples seek simpler lives, moving from Oslo to the coast. Seniors lose the zeal for travel. And everyone seems to swap cities in “the grass is greener” fashion, begging the question, is anyone actually happier for it?