Data, information, visualization

Dana Solomon gave a presentation, now posted online, at MLA 2013 about ”the deployment of information visualization as a method of textual analysis in the digital humanities”. It is worth reading in its entirety, but as a non-specialist I found two distinctions – one conceptual, one historical – to be especially instructive:

Data is typically not useful without some kind of supplementary, grafted-on action: processing, mining, analysis, visualization, etc., while information can take the form of processed data, and is therefore more readily useful. Data is always a noun, while information walks the ontological line between noun and verb, or object and process. Data visualizations can be beautiful and powerful visual objects, but the term itself is less dynamic than its more processual partner and, further, is fraught with its own embedded epistemological debate about what it means for something to be “given.” My personal preference is to use “information visualization” because the term offers a more fruitful starting point for a discussion of methodology and practice. [– – –]

If the first wave of large-scale database projects in the digital humanities is exemplified by the practices of digitizing texts, constructing archives, and determining best practices for digital preservation, then the practice of information visualization is emblematic of the second wave of projects devoted to mining this new data.