Data-visualization researchers have been more cautious in their reviews. The Digg Labs tools provide an alternative way to view the site and its offerings, which is good, researchers say. But the tools lack interactive elements, such as the ability to rewind or show an earlier moment in time, or to more broadly tailor visualizations to a reader’s specific questions.
“There is often a temptation to have dynamic, moving displays, which is good in that it draws attention, but sometimes [it] inhibits understanding,” says Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory professor Ben Shneiderman. “I want control, and to be able to explore and follow my own desires.”
Shneiderman and his colleague Plaisant each pointed to the IBM project Many Eyes, a site allowing users to create their own data illustrations, as helping to lead the recent surge of data-visualization tools aimed at consumers rather than professionals. (See “Sharing Data Visualization.”)
Stamen Design founder Eric Rodenbeck, who has worked closely with Digg in developing the Digg Labs tools, says that interactive features for the Digg Labs tools are in the works. But he also points to a difference between Digg Labs’ products and many traditional data-visualization efforts, in which may lie Digg Labs’ most intriguing potential.
Digg is a community of users, and the data produced is real-time information about that community’s behavior. As the tools hold a mirror to the community’s actions, Rodenbeck says, they may already be influencing the way the community acts, like a biofeedback machine. As the tools become more interactive, this effect is likely to increase and become easier to measure.
“There’s definitely a change in behavior when you make that behavior visible, and you can see it,” Rodenbeck says. “If a community can see itself and recognize itself as a community, that’s a very powerful thing.”
Nonetheless, as Digg Labs enters its second year, it serves as a dual illustration of the Web’s future. Its new interfaces are part of a Web-wide groping toward new ways of representing information. But as Digg’s own home page shows, the old reliability of text headlines remains paramount.
“Digg Labs definitely shows that alternative interfaces are possible, but also shows why the simple linear [text] list has changed so little in the last 10 years,” says interface design consultant Jakob Nielsen. “Alternative interfaces have so far not been nearly as useful.”