NFB and Jam3 launch data visualization of human emotions from the pandemic

Who: National Film Board and Jam3.

What: “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” an interactive “story” of the pandemic told via data visualization of people’s experiences, feelings and discussions during the crisis.

When & Where: The site quietly went live this week, with NFB promoting it through its owned media and digital channels, plus some paid social media and a PR push.

Why: In early spring, the NFB started to look at ways it could contribute culturally to this historic moment, said operations and production manager Janine Steele. “How can we use our skills and our artists to express this human experience.”

The digital team reached out to some of its regular contributors, including Jam3, to ask if they had any ideas. The agency came back with a few suggestions, but one stood out. “It was this notion of tapping into the data of what’s happening… to try to get at the heart and the emotion of the experience that everyone was going through was really exciting to all of us,” said Steele.

How: Through a website that hosts an artistic data visualization of how people have felt since the start of the pandemic, based on their tweets. If, for the last six months we’ve been awash in clinical charts about new cases, infection rates and deaths, Jam3 created a visualization of the human experience. “Human feelings, to us, are the defining data of this pandemic,” is how it’s described on the site.

The agency identified hundreds of thousands of tweets around the pandemic each month. Those tweets were first grouped into 10 topics, then IBM Watson tone analyzer was used to identify sentiments arising from those tweets. They came up with four sentiment categories: fear, confidence, joy and sadness.

The tweets are presented as bubbles in one of four colours—one for each of the sentiments—with those bubbles grouped together chronologically to form one larger ring. The bubbles as people scroll over them, revealing the tweets when clicked.

“The design for me is really lovely,” said Steele. Aside from the visual appeal, the tweets themselves tell a story of the crisis that will feel familiar and remind people they are not alone in really beautiful ways, she said. Sometimes that beauty can be absurd: “I think one of my personal favourite [tweets], was somebody was talking about how the only interaction they had that day was with a black squirrel.”

The NFB creates websites? The NFB tells stories, including via its digital studio, which has been around for about 10 years. “Our purpose has always been to look at ways in which we are grappling with human experience, often through the lens of technology,” said Steele. “We will look at those creative technologies [that] can help us tell stories, so that we better understand ourselves, better understand the medium. It’s very central to the NFB mandate.”

And we quote: “While we’ve all seen visual representations tracking Covid-19 cases and death rates, it’s much more difficult to illustrate the collective sentiments and conversations we’ve had since this has begun.” — Pablo Vio, co-founder and ECD at Jam3.

David Brown