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A Sustainable Climate Conversation, Visualized

Updated on December 30, 2014

A world of climate conversations

The universe is not pitch black.

The world is neither an opaque globe of green and blue, nor is it molded in the shape of a plane or a disk. Instead, it is deeper in black, with a tint of translucent blue outlining.

Nevertheless, it is round, glowing.

Seeds attach themselves to other seeds of similar ideas, forming a huge tree.

These trees grow bigger and bigger. Larger and larger.

Much larger and bigger in proportion to the world from which they sprung out into existence in various natural colors that resemble our world's produce.

They looked like they could be edited during dinner instead of cooked for one.

These trees visualize the grown seeds of conversations that have been cultivated in the ecosphere throughout the project.

The Ecosphere project visualizes big data using the open web technology.
The Ecosphere project visualizes big data using the open web technology. | Source

Climate change conference

The CNN ecosphere project in 2011 successfully demonstrated how we could plant a seed and watch it grow.

Conversations were sorted out and grouped together using hashtags and visualized in real-time.

The project sifted through tweets containing the specific hashtag #cop17 during the 17th Conference of the Parties, taking place in Durban, South Africa that year in November.

In the same year, Time shows that Twitter has about 360 million sign-ups, with about 460,000 new sign-ups per day.

Out of the millions of sign-ups, more than 50 million users were reported to be logged in every day. Twitter's daily average number of tweets was in the realm of 230 million.

The CNN Ecosphere Project

5 stars for Ease of use

A matter of algorithm

According to the creative director, Luc Schurgers, the project went through many different algorithms to model the plants that the team wanted to grow.

"It's quite a heavy processing job. So we're using C++ for that," said Lead Developer Daniel Lewis.

As the 3D visualization happens in real-time, the process is designed to happen as if the tweets created real seeds like real plants.

"These tweets they then form topics that then grow trees. If there are enough similar tweets, enough of seeds, they can then install a new topic and grow on from there," explains Luc.

Another cycle involves seeds attaching themselves to an already existing topic. This is made possible using the growth algorithm that the team created on actual growth pattern.

"These we found in the plant world, and we used Atlantis, our prototyping environment for this. Atlantis allowed us to quickly develop various graphical styles."

With those creative decisions being made and documented as the project commences, the CNN ecosphere began visualizing conversations at the 17th Conference of the Parties, or also known as COP17.

Ecosphere's award-winning visualization

CNN Ecosphere
COP17 in Durban, South Africa
2 Cannes Lions at the 59th International Festival of Creativity
Gold and Silver Awards at the ADC and Clio Awards in New York
Montreux Festival
The ADC of Europe Awards in Barcelona
The ecosphere project harvested rewards after its first appearance at the climate conference.

Did you take part in the conversation with #COP17 or #RIO20?

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How to use the ecosphere

The mechanism of the ecosphere is quite intelligent and user-friendly.

To be able to join the conversation, people simply needed to include the Twitter hashtag #cop17 and start tweeting.

A visitor then can zoom in to the hologram representation of the world.

"And you can see other people, their topics, and you can see the comments. And the nice thing is that comments can be voted up, either by being re-tweeted from Twitter, or people can navigate the ecosphere and they can like it," explains Daniel Lewis, the Lead Developer in Durban.

People in the conversation can then add a vote button.

A topic can be given a topic point, just the way conversations can be organized in the real world.

All this is done without leaving out the element of competition.

"You see the popular comments, they migrate to the top of a tree, and less popular ones they move down to the bottom."

As the visitors of the conference were coming in from all over the world and the comments are coming in like crazy, people can make sense of the activities by observing the world re-created on the website.

Data visualization map

The hologram representation of the world is nothing like the flat world models used by pre-scholarly thinkers to make sense of the world.
The hologram representation of the world is nothing like the flat world models used by pre-scholarly thinkers to make sense of the world. | Source

Ecosphere at the Earth Summit

They came back in RIO

In Durban, the team may well have experimented with WebGL and many different algorithms before deciding on something.

The 3D visualization grasped the elements of competition, natural vegetation behavior in the ecosystem.

It only makes sense that the following year CNN Ecosphere made another come back to the Earth Summit 2012 in Rio.

The CNN reporting on the data visualization announces its return in a story run as part of a complete coverage to Road to Rio.

Again, users can explore the 3D environment by zooming in on the discussions as it happens. On a separate timeline, the development is being documented from the microsite.

The layer method being demonstrated for a natural ecosystem, as used in The Whispered World.
The layer method being demonstrated for a natural ecosystem, as used in The Whispered World. | Source

Open web technologies

The WebGL technology was chosen for the 3D visualization of the conversations happening in 2011.

It is an open web technology that uses the JavaScript API to render 3D and 2D graphics without using additional plug-ins.

I only recently started to get to know this technology after seeing a whole bunch of other WebGL experiments being displayed on Google Chrome experiments website.

Some of the experiments were working and some weren't.

Other than WebGL, there are a whole new world of web technologies for creative coders to choose from.

"It was initially going to be a visualization of the growing tree structure, and we were going to use the web as an intake mechanism. But as soon was we found out that we could use WebGL and front-end, we changed our strategy and created a WebGL application for the installation and for the website," said the developer.

The same prototyping environment is being used for both of CNN's projects, with the second ecosphere already limiting itself to visualize just 30 topics in the Earth Summit 2012.

Users will then be able to watch the topic and monitor in real-time.

In a CNN call to action video being aired leading to the COP17 event in December 2011, a presenter explained what will happen to the conversation.

"And if someone replies to or re-tweets your message, it will be attached through one of these branches. And as the conversation continues and grows, you'll see your branch become a full-fledged tree."

Later on the CNN ecosphere project visualizing conversations in the Earth Summit 2012 using #RIO20 was shortlisted for the AME awards for advertising and marketing effectiveness.

The CNN ecosphere was also nominated for a Webby Awards in 2013 for best use in social media.

Data visualization attributes

The CNN Ecosphere project's website is no longer accessible to the general public as of now. However, there are many things about the project that made it quite appealing to users.

Despite aesthetic preferences, users can easily access the information they have provided and watch the trees grow in real-time.

It naturally resembles that of real world vegetation, so users can experience planting the seeds and then watching them grow.

They can zoom in and see where in the leaves and in the branches in which trees their tweets have gone to.

And they can do all this, in real-time.

© 2014 Lovelli Ariesti


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