Data-Visualization and Mind-Mapping

Jon Gosier —  September 10, 2008 — 4 Comments

Arnold Abira recently sent me a visual flow chart of how he discovered Appfrica (and went on to research me and my other project Gosdot) through a call I put out on Mashada for Swahili translators. As you can see from the chart below, he documents his thinking as hyperlinks across many of my projects, which ultimately resulted in him trying to get in touch…

Arnold calls this a visual thought chart [1] [2] (more commonly known as mind-mapping) which he described to me via instant message…

…it shows how we use our eyes (and our minds) to look at a problem. From there, we see patterns and opportunities, then imagine ways to manipulate those patterns to our advantage, and show those insights to others. Any problem can be solved using a visual and they’re so easy to understand.

Wikipedia defines mind-mapping as…

A mind map is a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged radially around a central key word or idea. Mind maps are used to generate, visualize, structure, and classify ideas, and as an aid in study, organization, problem solving, decision making, and writing.

The elements of a given mind map are arranged intuitively according to the importance of the concepts, and are classified into groupings, branches, or areas, with the goal of representing semantic or other connections between portions of information. Mind maps may also aid recall of existing memories.

By presenting ideas in a radial, graphical, non-linear manner, mind maps encourage an unorthodox brainstorming approach that can generate ideas without regard for a more formal, hierarchical organization system.

Visual-thinking and mind-mapping have lead to some very complex and innovative software development in the area of data-visualization.

Data-visualization is a way to visually represent data. Or as White African put it once, “to help the ignorant understand complex issues.” These visualizations can be as simple as graphs and pie-charts. For instance, this chart from 2000 shows the personal net worth of individuals from various countries and regions of the world in simple pie chart from.

But they can also be more complex like this one by Guilbert Gates for the New York Times…

This diagram displays the 20 biggest cross-border sovereign wealth fund deals since 2005. via Visual Complexity

Both diagrams relate economic information in a visual manner, but one is far more complex than the other. In another example, data visualization is used to show data related to urbanization and transport…

The shortest path tree is produced by loading street and transit information into a piece of software that computes shortest routes, called Graphserver, and then exporting the resulting tree to a custom-format text file. That text file is read by a program written in Processing, which calculates the width of each branch by recursively summing the length of every branch upstream from the given branch. The Processing program then spits the output to screen.

Who can forget Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar’s extraordinary work with, a dynamic way of indexing statements of human feelings on the internet. He presented his project at TED 2007 which you can watch here. Harris went on to explore data-visualization further in his projects Universe, Time Capsule and his most recent project I Want You to Want Me. All of his projects represent ways of parsing data from websites and blogs an presenting them in a quirky, visual manner. It’s a technique that groups like Stamen and Similar Diversity have built careers on.

This project from Similar Diversity visualizes conceptual connections between the major religions of the world, showing the commonalities and differences between Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism.

Mind-mapping (a form of data-visualiation) can be used for anything from planning your day, to writing a novel or screenplay, to mapping the internet or social networks. Recently I used the mind-mapping software Freemind to map the relations of various people, places and events following the 2008 Kenya Post-Election Crisis. You can view that map here. In the example at the beginning of this article, Arnold used mind-mapping to document the relation of several weblinks as he traced my presence on the internet but the applications are endless.


Archive of Mind-Maps
Using Mind-Maps Effectively
Data Visualization on Wikipedia

Jon Gosier


Founder of Apps4Africa, Appfrica, and D8A

4 responses to Data-Visualization and Mind-Mapping


    I love mind maps. Being dyslexic I find images much easier to translate than words. When ever I scope out a new idea I find a pen paper and lots of arrows really helps. The only problem is you can step back after half hour session and it looks like a escher painting!


    Thanks Jon for the post! lol… I didn’t imagine you would blog this. Another great visualization is the one presented by Hans Rosling’s (google) during a TED talk where explains a new way of visually presenting statistical data.

    This is a MUST WATCH!


    Another great use of visuals to elaborate the guts and technical details of how Google’s Chrome browser was designed and built, is their comic book.

    Not only is the comic lovely, but its makes it so easy to understand what the heck a browser really does.


    Very cool. I began to consider this only a few weeks ago, and posted a blog entry on it. I was trying to figure out how to collaboratively map the development sector…

    You've hit it on the head, thanks.

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