Thursday Oct 30, 2008

Making Money with Free Software

When I saw today's Slashdot story with a similar name, I assumed it'd be about some business model for monetizing opensource software. That's a fairly dry subject, but nonetheless one that interests me. So I read on.

But much to my surprise, the money being made was this:

Picture of New Commemorative Coin: 'The Architecture Fiver'

...and when they said it was being made with free software, they really meant it. The Dutch Ministry of Finance held a contest to design a new five Euro coin using the theme: "Netherlands and Architecture." And the winning entry came from Stani Michiels, who developed it using nothing but opensource software.

For the whole story, see Stani's blog. I particularly like the bits about how he did the design and visualization. On the front of the coin, for example, he took the names of famous Dutch architects, sized and positioned them according to how many web pages mention them, and finally varied the lettering's line widths to produce the image of Queen Beatrix. Pretty cool stuff.

Friday Sep 26, 2008

Wordling SocialSite

I happened to be looking at an entry in Alexis' blog yesterday and this caught my eye:

He made it with Wordle, an online tool which describes itself as "a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide." I agree that the results are beautiful (especially when they prominently feature my favorite project).

Wordle is able to grab text from a URL to generate a word cloud. Alexis fed it the URL for The Aquarium when he generated the one above. And, much to my happiness, he must have done it on a day when there happened to be a lot of SocialSite-related material on The Aquarium's front page.

So I was inspired to try it out myself. And, of course, I used our SocialSite blog as the source URL. I like the results:

Looking at it, you'll probably get the feeling that SocialSite has OpenSocial at its core and then builds a set of extensions and complimentary functionality around it. I'd say that's a pretty good description of what we do. Maybe a picture really is worth a thousand words.

Friday Jun 08, 2007

Deep-Linking Into The Pink Dots

The "pink dots" maps have been getting some special attention lately. First, Jonathan referenced our original Solaris registrations map to make a point about how Sun's embrace of free software is driving adoption of our technologies. Then yesterday, Eduardo mentioned our new GlassFish adoption map on The Aquarium.

Both Jonathan and Eduardo asked readers to look at a particular map view to get an illustration of their point. One thing worth mentioning is that it's actually possible to link directly to such views.

For example, Jonathan (who wanted his readers to look at the map with a blank background) could have referenced this URL:

http://sysnet.sunwarp.net/maps/?lat=39.75&lng=-105&zoom=2&mtype=Blank

Or Eduardo (who wanted users to look at how GlassFish usage had increased in Brazil) might have referenced this URL for February:

http://beta.glassfish.java.net:81/maps/?lat=-12.89748918375589&lng=-51.50390625&zoom=4&mtype=Map&otype=gf_admin_hits_2007_02_exclusive

...and this one for April:

http://beta.glassfish.java.net:81/maps/?lat=-12.89748918375589&lng=-51.50390625&zoom=4&mtype=Map&otype=gf_admin_hits_2007_04_exclusive

But wait, those are complicated URLs. How could anyone possibly know which one to use?

It's easy. Just find the map view that you want and then copy the link referenced by the "This View" anchor in the map page. It's the link which I've highlighted in yellow below:

The JavaScript code in the maps page dynamically updates this link to always reference a URL which would recreate the current view.

So there you have it. If you want to have people look at some specific view of these maps to illustrate your point, you can send them there with just one click.

However, there is one caveat...

These deep-linking URLs guarantee that everyone will see the same map view at a given center point and zoom level. However, the actual amount of territory visible in the map (and thus summarized in the sidebar stats) will depend on the user's window size and screen resolution. So they won't necessarily see exactly the same image and figures that you do (though it should be close, assuming that most people have reasonably-sized screens and windows).

Friday Mar 16, 2007

Product Quality Heatmaps

Read/WriteWeb has an interesting look at heatmap visualizations. In particular, they focus on Summize, a site specializing in product reviews.

Summize allows users to vote on the quality of products. What's new and interesting is how they present those voting results--with heatmaps. Here is an example:

The colored stripe is a heatmap showing what percentage of users think the iPod Nano is great (the green: 44%), what percentage think it's wretched (the red: 12%), and those in between (the orange, yellow, and yellowish green). One nice thing about this visualization is that it works well even when the heatmap image is small. So, for example, they use a scaled-down version of the stripe next to each item in search results.

The end result is a nice way to see and understand a lot of information packed into a small space--the very definition of a good visualization.

Thursday Mar 08, 2007

The Scientific Strengths of Nations

Thumbnail Image of "The Strengths of Nations Data" Visualization

W. Bradford Paley has created some fascinating and beautiful "Map of Science" visualizations. They show how scientific fields (or "paradigms") relate to one another, based on how often academic papers in each area reference one another. There is even an offer to provide a nice poster of their work for just the cost of shipping and handling.

The latter provides the best version of the base image, in my opinion. It includes category labels (such as "Quantum Physics" and "Biochemistry"), which make it easier to see high-level trends. For example, it appears that their algorithm places Computer Science in closer relation to Brain Research than to Math--something which I find interesting (assuming I'm reading the chart correctly).

But I find a second picture even more interesting. "The Strengths of Nations" visualization uses the same technique, but creates a separate image representing the scientific work of different countries. By comparing different countries' images, we can see where countries over-weight or under-weight work in different scientific fields. One example, as Paley explains, is:

Even at this gross reduction, you can see image variations relating to how the US treats science (the large map: heavy in the Medical Sciences at the lower left) and, say, China (top of the rightmost column: heavy in Physics, the nodes at the upper right).

Interesting, isn't it?

By the way, when looking at the high-res versions of these images, be sure your browser isn't scaling them down (or you won't see much). To avoid scaling, you may need to click on the image a second time once it comes up in your browser. And to give credit where it's due... I found these via a post on infosthetics.com.

Thursday Feb 15, 2007

Picturing the Summit of the Blogosphere

I love visualizations which turn complex information into a simple picture. This one, from Ben Fry shows how the fifty most popular blogs in the world exchanged hyperlinks over a ninety-day period. See his description for full details, but in short:

The first [image], used for an article titled Linkology, shows the connections between the top 50 blogs, based on data provided by Technorati. The colors depict the categorization: orange for technology, blue for politics, pink for gossip, and green for "other".

The intensity of the line is based on the direction of the link, so the lines are brightest at the link destinations. Because lower-ranked blogs are more likely to link to a higher ranked blog than vice-versa, the lefthand side of the image (the top ranked blogs) is brightest.

In other words, we can see that the most popular blogs (on the left of the picture) get the most incoming links because their ends of the lines are brighter. And the large number of lines overall shows us how frequently top blogs reference one another.

The guys at Table of Malcontents think that the picture demonstrates how "professional bloggers are, at best, symbiotic parasites" (because they use information from other blogs to fuel their own). I'm not sure that the image supports such a conclusion. To me, the picture isn't noteworthy for unearthing some surprising trend. The web is made up of hyperlinks, and the most popular sites receive more inbound links than do less popular sites. No shock there.

It's noteworthy just because it's a great picture and makes a trend very easy to see and understand.

Tuesday Jan 02, 2007

Drilling Down in the Solaris Registrations Map

Recently Jim Grisanzio referenced our Solaris Registrations Map to illustrate the volume of OpenSolaris activity in Japan. Since I'd love to see more people using our map in this way, I thought I'd talk about it a bit.

For this kind of use, one handy feature is the ability to reference a particular map view directly. This can be done by copying the "Link To: ... This View" URL when you have the map zoomed and positioned as desired. For example, Jim could have referenced this URL when talking about Solaris-related activity in Japan. This allows everyone to look at approximately the same map view and statistics. (Note: the URL controls the map type, zoom level, and center coordinates; it obviously cannot control clients' screen resolution, which is what determines how much of the map around the center is shown and leads me to use the "approximately" qualifier.)

On my screen, this view currently shows:

Registrations In Visible Area
Solaris 10 / sparc:1715
Solaris 10 / x86:6387
OpenSolaris / sparc:17
OpenSolaris / x86:290
Total:8409

How do we interpret these numbers? Well, one thing they do not mean is that there are just 8409 Solaris users in Japan. As the FAQ notes, this map only shows data for "Solaris 10 and Open Solaris instances that activated Sun Connection to receive automatic software updates." As with any product, only a subset of total users will go through a registration/activation process.

I'm not aware of a good way to estimate what percentage of total users will have registered. So I can't infer the total number of Solaris and OpenSolaris users in Japan from this map view. On the other hand, it seems likely that whatever percentage of users choose to register/activate in one region would roughly equal the percentage of users who do so in other regions. If that's true, we should be able to use this map to compare the relative size of Solaris and OpenSolaris users in different geographic regions. For example, a fully zoomed-out view of the map currently shows a total of 83268 activated instances. So comparing our Japan total (8409 instances) to this number, we could estimate that around 10% of worldwide Solaris and OpenSolaris users are in Japan. That's interesting (and makes me think that perhaps we should update the map to show such percentages automatically).

Hopefully this gives you some ideas on how to dig for interesting views and stats in the map. As we've seen, the statistics it shows are not good indicators of the number of users or installations in absolute terms, but may be useful in estimating the relative populations for different geographic areas. We plan to investigate adding new data sets (such as Jim suggests) which may provide more absolute population info. Stay tuned. And let me know if you have ideas for a data set you think should be included.

Wednesday Dec 20, 2006

The Story Behind The Solaris Registrations Map

I'm one of the people who created the Solaris Registrations Map which has caught Jonathan's eye. Developing the map has been a lot of fun, and I thought I'd share some highlights here.

First off, credit where credit is due... The original idea for the map came from Steve Wilson, Vice President of the "SysNet" group at Sun. Among other things, this group runs the Sun Update Connection and the related Solaris registration service from which the map's data comes. Steve had only been on the job a few days when at small group outing he thought aloud: wouldn't it be cool if we made a Google Maps mashup of all of these registrations we're getting? As another of the map's developers would later say, to some of us Steve's question was the equivalent of chumming the water for sharks. We knew a great idea when we heard one, and we just had to make it happen.

So over the next few days and weeks, we started playing with visualizing our registration data using the Google Maps API. A few challenges quickly became apparent. Chief among these were performance and privacy concerns.

On the performance front, we quickly realized that the JavaScript-based markers often used for such mashups just would not work for a large data set such as this one (80,000 registrations and counting). So for our high-level views, we use the Java Image I/O API to create our own matrix of tile images, and then use Google Maps API calls to have those overlaid atop the normal map tiles. For example, where a fully zoomed-out view of the earth would cripple one's browser with the work of placing 80,000 individual "balloons" on a map using JavaScript-based markers, the custom tile approach means the browser just has to retrieve and position at most a handful images. Much faster and kinder to your browser.

Next, the privacy concerns... We had originally been assuming this map would only be available to a restricted audience on Sun's internal network. But soon after we started showing off initial versions, certain people were asking why we couldn't expose it on the Internet. Again, we knew a great idea when we heard one and had to make it happen. After all, Sun has jumped into the spirit of transparency and the Participation Age like no other. Making our map public could be one more step in that path, but it had to be done with care: we absolutely could not violate the privacy expectations of our users. As cool as some people might think it would be to find a dot on their exact house, others would understandably be quite upset.

And so, after consulting with Sun's privacy specialists we settled on an approach of locating registrations by nothing more specific than a zip or postal code. In other words, your dot won't show up directly on your house (unless, perhaps, you happen to live at a central post office). Instead, information from you and any of your Solaris-using nieghbors will be aggregated together and put into one marker at the center of your postal code area. As our team's Director, Eric Peterson, put it: even "Ted Nugent would be comfortable knowing that the T1000/Nevada registered to his 'Tedquarters' in Jackson, MI is untracable beyond 49202."

I think there are some interesting details deeper down in our technical approach, but I'll cover those in a future post. In the meantime, it looks like Steve has posted his own account of the map's story.

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