A new source in the education-testing business tells me about a “huge cultural collision” between the “sensate, feeling types and the new racetrack bettor types.”
That winery of mid-’60s TV fame Italian Swiss Colony and its mascot “that little old winemaker, me” often seems to apply in surprising places.
A few weeks ago at a visualization conference, the business intelligence community’s leader in visualization design, Stephen Few, told the room full of dedicated visualizers to be more useful. Some took exception.
In the gentlemanly discourse going on right now within earshot of this blog, they’ve been discussing definitions. What, for example, is “useful”?
Stephen, of whom I should disclose my long-time admiration, responds to criticism from Mike Danziger that his advice is slightly abrasive. Mike had complained that Stephen dismisses such attempts as the Ambient Orb without trying to understand it.
Mike’s got a point. They’re both right. The Ambient Orb is silly, but it still deserves a place on the visualization spectrum-for silly uses. It has no place in business, but so what?
A serious winemaker doesn’t try to understand jug wine. He just spits. Even so, jug wine has its place.
That mid-20th Century jug wine Italian Swiss Colony didn’t even try to be good. But, according to a California wine-industry insider I talked to in 1980, it did pave the way for good wine in the American marketplace.
That insider explained to me that back when wine was still perceived as elite, Italian Swiss Colony applied marketing muscle to break out into a broad middle class market. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t great, it just got people trying it. Many of them liked it enough to try better and better wine, and today California produces some of the world’s best. “That little old winemaker, me” had started a movement.
The trick will be to provide visualization that doesn’t turn off future users. If too many say, “Ick! That’s visualization? I don’t need it!” it could suffer.
If the Ambient Orb had been my only introduction to visualization, I’m not sure I’d have looked any further. I do look further because I saw better efforts first.
This afternoon the geeks and the grad students who drove the IEEE InfoVIS (information visualization) conference with their clever but mostly useless inventions swarmed into the hotel lobby for some reason that only their well-wired brains understand. They are a different crowd from the one I’ve seen lately.
This year I’ve only been to business intelligence conferences. That bunch is mostly from business but also has many from the technical end of the house, IT. Compared with the geeks, most of them are boring. They talk about “goals and objectives,” they tell the same stories, and they wear the same clothes, by which I can tell they also have more money.
The geeks are more fun. I’m sure they too speak in jargon, but it’s none I recognize. They dress the way I used to and would all the time if I weren’t afraid I’d be judged “unprofessional”—more jargon—by potential clients and sources. That is, blue jeans, running shoes, and plain cotton shirts.
What distinguishes them, though, is their lively air. Also, their accents. They seem to be from Belgium, France, Turkey, Germany, China and other places.
Their English isn’t always so good. I talked to one guy from Germany who actually seemed to know English well until I asked him what use his 3D modeling software might have. I tried the question several different ways, but he just couldn’t understand.
Of course, they’re mostly younger than the business people I’m used to. A chart of the age data would have a bulge in the 20-40 range. After 50, many fewer. Or maybe I should say that such a chart would not represent chronological age but emotional or behavioral age. As on other college campuses I’ve observed, many men in their 50s speak with the bubbly enthusiasm of those in their 20s.
I don’t think I appear too conventional despite a few concessions, and inside I feel like a 30-year-old. So I wondered why I found it so hard to strike up conversations.
It wasn’t just that I knew exactly one person there before I arrived. I’d faced that before and usually ended up having chatted with half a dozen people.
Finally, on the last night, I found comfort. I had just joined a long line for the dinner buffet when a slinky young woman with a generous neckline glided up beside me and said, “Long line, huh?” The programmers in the crowd could only hope to write code as sleek as she was. She was bright and interesting, too.
After two glasses of wine, she mentioned that not one of those geeks had seemed to notice her over the conference’s two days. Such dedication! Those guys may not yet understand what use their work may have, but with this kind of geeky concentration I’m sure they’ll figure out how to sell infovis to the safe, boring old business people.