The eighties onwards saw an explosion in information and computing power which has only accelerated in the years since. This offered new opportunities for people to attempt to understand this information at a high level, and new challenges to computer scientists and social scientists in the way in which it could be presented.
This book, largely written at the time, starts to address the visualisation of complex social data, particularly that with a geographical dimension. It is still the case that most information is presented "flat" - on a two dimensional surface, whether real or virtual - and even when it can be presented in a "non-flat" form (perhaps with controls to allow a 3-D image to be rotated, it doesn't turn out to be the best. The writer wrestled with the issue of how to present data that was in effect four or five-dimensional in such a way that people looking at it would be able to gain a rapid sense of it.
The book is fully illustrated, not just with sample datasets, but looking at how data changes over time. The social scientist examining the data not only sees how the information is presented, but understands how that presentation would relate to his analysis. It is interesting to see how these "intuitive" presentations had first to be conceived of themselves.
These approaches to visualisation of information provide the framework of much of the complex data presentation we see today - think, for example, of the barrage of graphics that we are shown on election nights, for example. It's an important and defining work in the context of computational social science. If I have a quibble with it as a book, it is that little attempt has been made to present "new" information - thus, whilst the graphics are effective, they lose some of the relevance and immediacy they had when the book was in its early editions.
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