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Posted by – April 27, 2006

Jeremy Wagstaff, in the Wall Street Journal, says:

One of the things that bugs me about our oh-so-cool information revolution is this: We show such little imagination in how we actually look at that information. Think about it. We have all this fascinating data at our fingertips and yet we have decided the most effective way of viewing it is in…a table. Or a chart. Or a list of search results (“1.7 gazillion matches — click here for next 10 results”).

There has to be a better way. And actually there are lots. One of the best is the treemap. A treemap is a bunch of squares, arranged to form a mosaic. The size and color of each block mean something. But what?

Well, like any visualization, it depends on what you’re illustrating. Say you’re a shop selling coffee beans. You want to show your customers what you’ve got. One way would be a straight list, ordered according to a single criterion — say, price. But then, how would you also let your customers arrange your products using different criteria? Acidity? Body? Region of origin? Decaffeinated or likely to have you climbing the walls? Using a treemap, a customer could see each of your coffees as a different block, with the blocks bunched together in groups according to a particular criterion, such as origin, so that one group of blocks would be African coffees, another Asian, and so on. The shade of each block would indicate another criterion — level of acidity, say — and the size of each block could be its popularity: the bigger the block, the more popular the coffee. Suddenly a bewildering maze of coffees becomes a simple map, packed with all sorts of information, but all of it on one page. Move your cursor over the individual blocks and you can learn more about each.

Link to the complete article:
Click for 2,000 Results
Treemaps: A More Useful Way
Of Looking at All That Information
Jeremy Wagstaff
Wall Street Journal
April 28, 2006

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