Tuesday, May 20, 2008

3D Rears its Ugly Head Again

I've just started watching some of the talks from KML in the North.
Its from the University of Alaska Fairbanks who do lots of interesting things with volcano visualisations. First up is Michael Weiss-Malik from Google, well worth watching for 13 minutes:

I completely agree with his view that for most viewers the presentation is the data and his Edward Tufte quotes are also spot on. He then points out with the aid of an oil consumption website that a table is pretty poor data presentation (yes), a pie chart shows you more features of the data (true), a thematic map is even more informative (indeed) and that a 3D KML rendering of that same thematic map is even better (no, totally disagree. Yuk).

This is a perfect example of my favourite saying 'Just because we can, does not mean we should'. The best presentation format in Michael's list is the 2D thematic map (although the pie chart has some useful and unique features) because rendering that map in 3D KML has the following problems:

  1. I can't compare the Oil consumption of UK and Australia at the same time because they are on different sides of the globe.
  2. If I wanted to find out the exact value of oil consumption for a particular country on the thematic map I can easily glance at the colors in the key to pinpoint the value. With consumption converted to height in Google Earth its difficult to read off the actual value.
  3. Its possible that a high oil consumption of one country would obscure (or at least complicate the view if the 3D models are translucent) the consumption of a country located behind it, meaning I have to 'fly' around to see the value related to that country.
Google Earth is a good visualisation tool, for example maps draped over topography, time animations and the ability to turn layers on and off are all things a paper thematic map cannot do but I think Michael has picked an example where paper still wins over a virtual globe.

I explain my dislike of 3D in another context too

1 comment:

Bjørn Sandvik said...

Hi Rich,
Since I've heard similar arguments from several people, I decided to answer 3D KML critics in a blog post series: here, here and here! :-)

Actually, I think Michael Weiss-Malik is right. A prism map can better visualise world oil consumption than a 2D thematic map.

Michael uses a visualisation made by Giasen that has been around for a while. I dont't think it's a nice visualisation (too much colour, height and transparency), but I don't think it's right to say that 3D prism maps are not useful!