Q&A with Carlo Zapponi
Welcome to our ongoing Q&A series, where we're introducing you to some of the designers behind the work you see at Visualizing.org. Join the conversation in the comments below!
V: How and when did you get started in data visualization?
CZ: Almost ten years ago, I had the pleasure to work with Angelo Rossi, who is probably the biggest expert in Italy's dairy sector. His idea was to use charts to explain the dairy market and to explain it through a different representation of data. This experience pushed me to design and develop an entire charting framework called Atomicharts. I later joined frog design which gave me the chance to mix my skills in computer science with data analysis and interaction design. Simultaneously, I was working on several projects in data visualization like peoplemov.in and worldshap.in.
V: Tell us about a data viz project you're especially proud of.
CZ: One of the projects I’m really happy about is A World of Tweets, because it was the first project where I could reach a large group of people. A World of Tweets shows you where people are tweeting from across the world through the use of a real-time heatmap. It started as a personal, tiny weekend experiment and, after involving frog design (especially Andreas Markdalen, frog's principal visual designer), it turned into a successful project and has been featured in some of the most important websites and magazines. I've also created special versions for events like SXSW in Austin, "Salone del mobile" in Milan and an experimental one for the riots in London. There is also a version for the Internet Explorer 9 which is used to show the extended support to HTML5. The whole process has been an amazing journey — from the transformation of a continuous flow of cold data into something that people could look at and gain a different grasp of what’s happening with Twitter.
V: What's the most exciting development that's happened in the field in the past year?
CZ: I would say the most exciting development is the huge amount of data that is being shared nowadays. It’s amazing to see how many institutions are making their data sets available. I’m living in a country where politicians used to fight about fake data. People would attend events and leave without understanding anything. Right now, as more information is shared, we finally have the chance to better understand the situation and participate in the discussion. Now our role is to transform all this information into something accessible to everyone.
V: Where do you see data visualization heading in the next couple of years?
CZ: That’s a very tough question. Certainly I see an increasing amount of public data, both at a high level (data provided by organizations and institutions) and at a low level (personal data linked to our everyday life). What is interesting to understand is the way these heaps of data will be used. Some are afraid we are selling our private lives to corporations, while others are more relaxed and like the idea of having a completely tailored experience based on their personal data. I don’t have a clear point of view on this — certainly I’d love to have access to as much data as possible! I believe that one area where we will see the biggest step forward in the use of personal data will be the healthcare sector.
V: What's one visualization or data set you've always wanted to tackle but haven't yet had the time?
CZ: Sentiments. I’d like to have the entire set of Twitter (or Facebook) statuses and filter them to understand what are the overall feelings: happiness, sadness, rage...I’d like to know more about the sentiments of a country, a region and how people have reacted to certain events of the last few years.