This is an Urbanscale Weeknote titled “Week 58: You only live twice,” written by Adam Greenfield in New York City on the 17th of February 2012.

Week 58: You only live twice

Adam Greenfield on 17 February 2012

Lots to manage this week, amidst our on-the-fly reconfiguration of the company and its offerings.

» Midweek we shipped off the final documentation of the January workshop we held for BBVA’s Centro de Innovación, with our good friends Fabien Girardin and Nicolas Nova of Near Future Laboratory and young Mr. Slavin.

It’s been wonderful working with BBVA. If you’re interested in tracing the flows of matter, energy and information through a given place, not many things will give you a better handle on them than studying the patterns of financial transaction that obtain in that place. And of course, very few parties will have better visibility on these patterns than a bank with both retail and commercial offerings.

This kind of access is a tonic, let me tell you. Over the last half-decade or so, I’ve more than a few times been confronted with a frustrating inability to build some useful model or visualization of a situation, because the data required was simply out of reach — either it was held close by some recalcitrant gatekeeper or, just as likely, it straight up didn’t exist. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said something along the lines of “Imagine what we could show if we could only get” X or Y or Z dataset. The amazing thing about the BBVA engagement is that no such imaginary exercises are required: the answer to such queries is generally either, “Yeah, we’ve got that,” or at worst, “We can get that.”

The generous space of possibility this opens up has implications for one of the longer-term (rhetorical and practical) points we’re trying to make in our work. We believe, bluntly, that as far as the dynamic visualization of information is concerned, the era of “pretty pictures” is over, and that the time has come for institutions to use these methods more instrumentally, in roles as varied as prediction, decision support, argumentation and advocacy.

Of course, it’s a lot easier to make this argument on a foundation of visualizations with meaningful probative value, and the odds of building any such thing are immeasurably improved by access to robust and complete data sets. So saying that I’m looking forward to seeing what we’re able to develop with BBVA and the Near Future folks is something of an understatement.

» On the logistics front: this upcoming week we’ll be in Taipei for a series of events happening around the TELDAP 2012 conference. On the 22nd, with Nurri Kim and under the Do projects banner, I’ll be leading a Taipei Systems/Layers walkshop, and on the very next day, giving a talk at the Academia Sinica. But for a half-hour layover at the airport on my virgin visit to Asia (Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, April 1994), this will be my very first time in Taiwan, so — again — I’m super-excited.

» A little further out, upcoming keynotes include the Digital Urban Living Konference in Aarhus, Denmark, on the 22nd of March, followed by Where 2.0 in San Francisco, and one I’ve tentatively agreed to do at Open Data Eindhoven. The latter two are both in April — the San Francisco talk on the 4th and the Eindhoven event on the 20th. (I’m planning to be in Amsterdam a day or two either side of Eindhoven, so get in touch if you’re interested in e.g. Wijnand Fockink.)

» Keep an eye peeled for a post here showcasing some of the outstanding work our friend and colleague Ryan Sullivan did on iconography for Transitflow. We think this work goes a long way toward solving some really vexing problems in representing complex transit options for the mobile touchscreen, and we’re happy to be able to share it with you even independently of the context in which it originated.

» Finally, and on a not-entirely-unrelated note, I’ve been energized lately by the conversations we’ve been having with “social transit” provider Weeels about our doing some NYC-based work with them. Given our love for the city and our pride in representing it globally, New York has always been kind of an upsetting lacuna in our portfolio of projects, so the prospect of working on something we might actually get to experience as part of our own everyday life is just too enticing. I’ll keep you posted as these discussions evolve; until then, we’ll come back at you next week with a report from Taipei and whatever else crops up. Endmark