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Whilst looking at some of the processes involved in actually creating a temporal visualization, I was struck by a thought; how do we think of data whilst it is in the process of being digitally visualized?

Consider something as simple as building a graph which illustrates the frequency of several discrete occurrences over time.  Nathan Yau does so in his “Visualizing Patterns over Time” chapter of Visualize This and demonstrates the steps taken in this process.  From recording the data, to organising it within a spreadsheet, to writing the code that will command the software to build the visualization.  There is a point in this process where one component of the data is this code (2004, 101):


What does this data mean?  It tells us nothing of what the end visualization will look like as we cannot see the original data nor the software which will be used to create the visualization.  However at this point it is one of three ‘parts’ needed to construct the bar graph.  Does it have no value to us alone?  Or can it tell us of the authors intentions and the construction of his narrative?

This question becomes even more complicated in this temporal visualization of the film The Iron Giant.  Kevin L. Ferguson, Assistant Professor in the Department of English, CUNY illustrates the process of converting a film to data that can then be visualized in his blog.  He breaks the film into over 100,000 frames, classifies each of them within Excel and then creates visualizations based on a number of different factors.  This example plots length of shot against the timeline of the film:


These examples highlight the transformative steps taken to visualize data.  But how does this process equate to that of traditional historical chronologies?