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Weblog Entry


July 20, 2006

Via Information Aesthetics, here are a couple of incredible web-based visualizations:

Population: One
6.5 billion pixels, one per person on the planet.
Hydrogen Atom Scale Model
One proton, one electron, and a whole lotta nothing.

What I love about these pages is how they take advantage of the medium to produce an end result which is just about impossible to pull off in the real world. Though I have to admit, after viewing them, I’m still not sure I’ve quite wrapped my mind around such huge numbers… For more like this, see also: Exploration.

Luke L says:
July 20, 10h

The only real-world equivalent I know of is; if a pea representing the size of a nucleus was placed in the centre of a football stadium, the equivalent size of the atom would reach to the outer limits of the car park.

Lenny says:
July 20, 11h

I saw both of these, but for better or worse, scrollbars tend to hide the huge size of the pages. Dragging the scrollbar can get you across that large distance as quickly as it can a much smaller page, so you do not absorb the size. On the other hand, holding the scroll arrow is slow and does not give much feedback, which makes it too tedious to learn from.

You are right that a visualization like this one would be impossible outside of this medium, but the medium actually makes the distance seem less significant.

A real world comparison can’t afford such a straight-forward visualization, but it may yield better understanding. Especially with the hydrogen atom, where the picture gives a false sense of what the particles are and how they behave, a less direct analogy, like comparing a second to years, may work better.

These definitely are cool, though.

Dave S. says:
July 20, 11h

Lenny - I’m not sure placing a tiny physical dot 11 miles away from a basketball would be any more effective at allowing someone to absorb the scale. In both cases, your mind has to interpolate.

July 20, 12h

I am with you, while it makes me think I still can’t quite grasp the sheer number these represent. Even deeper still, each pixel represents a unique individual with goals, hopes, problems, etc… the complexity of it all… :)

Michael Nye says:
July 20, 17h

Those pages are really cool. The first one made me feel really insignificant. I am this tiny dot, and I can’t even see 1% of the screen at the same time. The second one didn’t work that well, though. The empty space of just dragging a scrollbar doesn’t convey it.

July 20, 23h

While the first one did work quite nice, the second one didn’t impress that much.

And there are actually quite some good real life examples to show things these size. But they are quite a lot of work to put up. I remember a valley in Switzerland where they’d put up a lot of huge and small globes which would represent the size of the planets and the sun. And they where placed scattered around the whole valley representing the distance between them. Worked quite nicely, though pluto was to far away, i believe we missed it.

BTW, the second example is actually completely wrong, an electron doesn’t have a size… it just depicts the radius of influence from the first electron… which is even harder to imagine.

Fred says:
July 21, 03h

Granted the graphics are a bit splotchy but this one gives some quick perspective in a digestible form:
“She’s one in a million, no wait 6.5 billion, she’s a beauty.” Toto?

Mau says:
July 21, 06h

It is amazing to think that in 1974 we were around 4 billion people… now we are at 6.5 billion. It took us 32 years to grow 2.5 billion…

Not bad,huh? When you think that it took 159 years to grow from 1 billion in 1802 and reach 3 billion in 1961. Source: Wikipedia [].

I guess this is not something to be proud of.

By the way, yesterday I went to watch ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ []… it is startling. I must say that I’ve never been fan of Al Gore but I have to give him big Kudos for this movie.

Ryan says:
July 22, 05h

This site uses crazy java code to harvest human feelings from a large number of weblogs. Every few minutes, the system searches the world’s newly posted blog entries for occurrences of the phrases “I feel” and “I am feeling”.

The result is a database of several million human feelings, increasing by 15,000 - 20,000 new feelings per day. Using a series of playful interfaces, the feelings can be searched and sorted across a number of demographic slices

Nothing to do with the world’s population…this is more like the population of the world’s bloggers. Check it out and enjoy… =)

CWW says:
July 22, 07h

For a concept as simple as Population:One, its design is utterly atrocious. In all honesty, for what it’s trying to convey, I would nominate the site for worst design of the year.

First of all, as a Mac user, I had to go to my bench-warming 3rd string browser (Firefox) to even get the correct illustration. For a site that only has one idea to get across, you’d think browser compatibility could’ve been easily addressed.

Second, as others have pointed out, the necessity to scroll to the right really deadens the effect of this site. Obviously no scrolling would be optimal, but even having it scroll downwards would be more logical for everyone and would make the point easier to visualize.

Then there’s the color scheme and use of extraneous design elements. This is a page that uses pixels to tell you something… you can’t be tossing unrelated pixels around everywhere just to make things prettier. The page should be stark and baron (black on white, or whatever), with immediate focus on the chunk of 6.5 million px, and no confusion over whether this maroon box or this black header is somehow connected to the pixel count.

Horriffic design… hopefully the author will clean the thing up before it gains any popularity.

Dave S. says:
July 22, 11h

CWW - where’s all the rage coming from? Good lord.

Zach says:
July 22, 11h

I must admit, I have never seen a minor oversight in browser compatibility cause such animosity from a complete stranger.

Though, however rude, he does have a point.

Lingerie says:
July 22, 11h

This is AMAZING !!! WOW !!!

cww says:
July 22, 14h

No rage, no animosity… just seems to me that if someone is attempting to make one extremely simple yet profound statement, they ought to make sure it’s extremely simple, and they ought to make sure it’s profound. The page you’ve linked to there does not succeed in doing either as far as I’m concerned. I found the poor design decisions to be much more interesting than the point the page was trying to make.

Sean says:
July 23, 13h

What I gleaned from those examples is that the size of a point on the screen is relative to the space around it.

What I gleaned from the comments is that points must be small, since when someone tries to make one, everyone else misses it.

I have to echo what you said within the comments Dave: where is all this rage coming from? Why would people rather comment on the aesthetic or the sensibility of the thing, rather than appreciate the scope it’s trying to convey? I don’t think it takes a lot of imagination to overcome whatever interface hangup you may have about it. If you can’t appreciate just how many pixels they’re talking about in both examples, do you ever actually work with a computer screen?

To everyone who thinks these examples don’t get the job done, I say put your code where your mouth is. If you dislike it so intensely, build the proverbial better mousetrap. And to those who would reply to that with “It’s not an interesting enough experiment to waste my time on” I’d counter with “it was interesting enough for you to a) click on, and b) criticize, so yes, I do think it’s interesting enough”.

Mau says:
July 24, 05h

I think CWW got confused with the big issue depicted by Population:One…

No, the issue is not that non-compliant websites are growing uncontrollably…

The issue here is that we are a lot of people in this planet… maybe because we are so many, and many many of us are not perfect, then we are seeing more websites with ‘horrific design’.

But if we are to criticize websites, then we should criticize our own, and then make sure that it at least passes W3C validation… which CWW’s website does not…
So what’s all the fuss about?

I think he’s just missing the point…

And no, no rage here at all.

Johan says:
July 24, 08h

with flash or 3d animation or scripted movement of the scroll, the action would not involve mouse gestures with the hand to scroll it. The eye should be the focus.

John says:
July 28, 13h

I really liked both and they did help me picture the total insignifigance of the individual and the total signifigance of atom’s size.

I think CWW needs to realize that he is just one person in 6.5billion and he is essentially nothing.
I’m sorry CWW, but maybe my “browser” is incompatable and I cannot see your complaint amid a sea of others.

Quakeulf says:
July 30, 09h