Pivot – interesting data navigation from Microsoft Labs.

Pivot is a tool for browsing large collections of data, such as Wikipedia, and really shows the value of a good API and semantic data.

It contains a filtering system on the left to help you dig into and out of the data, combined with a smooth zoom interface as we’ve seen implemented before in Seadragon and Photosynth and some very familiar browser elements such as tabs, most visited history on your homepage and bookmarking. It offers a very visual way of interacting with large data catalogues, such as movie databases or games catalogues, through film posters and game covers, something that I really love.

You can see Gary Flake demonstrating Pivot at the TED conference in Feburary here:

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The interface is lovely and it does open up new ways of interacting with these large data sets, but there does seem like some work has been done to prepare the data for use in Pivot, to make it more visual, such as the very way the different endangered species are shown, or the Wikipedia categories are visualised. This isn’t a bad thing, but it does mean if the data isn’t already visual as with films or games then there is an interesting piece of design work to be done to take full advantage of this browser. I’d love IMDB to get an API as this would be an amazing way to navigate their site.

While I instantly enjoy the visual navigation style, this is still far from replacing my usual browser, because while it allows me to interrogate the data in new ways, I am not sure I would use this new way of examining data for the current sets available, after all I tend to dip into these data heavy sites only when I have a specific query on something, where searching is much more appropriate than browsing. While I do think that the way we search and find data will change dramatically I think this sort of interface could really come into it’s own on the sites I tend to browse, such as Amazon or Facebook and I think it could offer a really interesting dimension to Twitter.

Create your own Photosynth

Microsoft have released a demo of Photosynth that allows you to create your own experiences. It still only works in Internet Explorer and requires a plugin to view. But I've been waiting for ages to have a play with this technology. It is amazingly simple to use, you just add a selection of photos of your subject and you are away, there is no labourious stitching of photographs required, it works out where they all fit in the scene.

I decided for my subject I'd take the popular Flickr topic of photographing your workspace. I've always felt my desk is a bit of an adventure (mess) and one simple photograph could never allow you explore its landscape in the same way I do. So I've made a photosynth of my desk here:

Photos are so much easier to take and store, they are on almost all mobile phones and services such as TwitterPic and Flickr show how taking photographs has become a normal way to document any event. When there is such a rich source of information, new ways of using and exploring this data is really interesting. If we think about how Google have recently had cars driving around the UK to map the streets for Google Maps, this effort and expense could be made redundant through the power of crowd-sourcing the photographs/data and applying a technology such as Photosynth. While Google just captures that street at that single point in time, this technology could also allow you to manipulate the time you are viewing that moment at. For instance if we take a popular tourist spot like St Paul's Cathedral, this has been photographed millions of times, so you could choose to not only experience it from a contemporary set of photographs but also using historic data, to experience the view in the 1920's for example.

Seadragon on the iPhone

Microsoft has released it's first iPhone application and its a good one. Some of the more interesting things that are coming out of Microsoft labs are Photosynth and Seadragon, you can see an excellent demo of this at a TED talk from 2007:

In brief Seadragon allows you to zoom quickly and smoothly through a great deal of visual information, so much information infact that when I originally saw the demo I assumed it was a little bit of demo magic being worked on a very high end computer. The zoom interface of Seadragon would seem like a natural fit with the multi-touch interface of the iPhone, but I had always thought that the iPhone did not have the necessary computing power to run such an application, thankfully I was wrong.If you are lucky enough to have an iPhone or iPod check Seadragon out and let me know what you think.

Future of Creative Technology Conference

Today I made a trip to DeMontford University to attend their one day conference on the Future of Creative Technology. The morning kicked off with a technology workshop with Jerry Fishenden from Microsoft. He seemed to have a bit of an agenda to push Surface, which seemed unnecessary given the audience, but he did demonstrate something I hadn't seen from Microsoft Research, that allowed 2D space to be plotted into navigable 3D space, in this case Modern art works. But there was no information given on how the data was extrapolated or an envisioned uses of it were. It lacked the crowd computing factor of Photosynth as it used a single image source.

There was a discussion around institutions versus individuals; with the idea of individuals walking away from luddite institutions to setup their own businesses. However I felt this view was rather na