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Beautiful Data by Toby Segaran, Jeff Hammerbacher

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Voyagers and Voyeurs

After these steps of data acquisition, design, and system implementation, we now had a running website and were ready to do "field tests" with users. We deployed the system in a set of user studies to observe how people would react to our system, what insights they might produce, and how we might improve the site.

We invited 30 people into our lab to observe how they explored data with sense.us. Each person could view what the previous participants had contributed to the site. We also ran a live deployment on the IBM corporate intranet that all employees in the company could access. From these studies, we investigated how people engaged with the visualizations and how the collaboration features impacted their explorations. Next, I summarize some of the more interesting usage patterns we observed.

Hunting for Patterns

Most users' first instinct was to engage in "scavenger hunts" for interesting and amusing observations, often driven by personal context. For example, users would search for jobs they or their friends or family members have held, or look at birthplace data for the countries of their ancestors. Along the way, people often left comments documenting the trends they found most interesting.

For example, participants noticed that the number of bartenders dropped to zero around the 1930s and posted comments attributing the drop to alcohol prohibition. One person found a peak and then steady decline in Canadian immigration as a percentage of the population ...

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