for the past few weeks, i have been working on a data visualization project that i’ve called the “equivalator“. it came out of an idea that i had to build a context for a single measurement or a pair of measurements out of a bunch of random comparisons that use the same dimension of measurement. you know… i REALLY wish that i had a more enticing way of describing this!
how it works
so the basic idea is that users will enter three pieces of information – the name of an object, the number of objects in the comparison, and then a quantification for that number of objects. for example, i could enter “my cat”, “1”, and “8 pounds”. the application then takes what you’ve told it (that one of “my cat” weighs “8 pounds”) and goes to the database of other user-entered items and returns a sampling of totally unrelated items that also have information about their mass stored there, and then tells the user what other things weigh 8 pounds. really – the simplest way to see what it does is to try it out for yourself. the fun part of it is that you get a little information graphic with it to help you visualize the comparison in a dimension that you would not normally think of.
ok… soooooo… what’s the point to this?
this is a particularly excellent question. i’m not entirely sure. i’ve thought that it would be fun and whimsical to build something like this. but as i started building my original design… and discovering that it was a pretty cranky interface that no one would ever like or use… i found that the project was gaining a “personality”. maybe not in the kind of killer-talking-artificial-intelligence-construct way, but it was definitely struggling to find its own identity. it didn’t like this kind of data entry or that. it didn’t know what to do with the data i was sending to it. it was trying to tell me that there was more stuff that it could be doing if i just made it simpler. and then once i got it actually working, it started showing that surprise was a great part of its allure. it showed me comparisons in orders of magnitude that i had never considered interesting but suddenly found… well… entertaining. and when i showed it to friends, they immediately found it amusing (albeit, with its fairly limited dataset, the amusement is fairly short-lived).
where i hope that this goes is that this personality continues to grow as i add new dimensions to the equivalator and better intelligence for drawing comparison across multiple dimensions. for example, if i know the mass of an object, and correlate that with some distance between two points, then i can calculate the work that is required to move that object between those two points. and THEN i can compare THAT WORK to some other totally unrelated and unexpected quantity of force… *MINDBLOWN*
this application is still in shakedown mode currently. my hope is to create a community around the tool to help validating user input and moderating the vast oceans of input that i am unrealistically assuming will follow its final release. i would love to develop an API that would allow developers and bloggers to simply add equivalations to their own website and offer visualizations of live data outside of the equivalator’s domain. maybe a mobile app? this started out as a simple thought experiment, but the equivalator’s personality is quickly winning me over. i hope to have more news about it as the project matures. stay tuned!