Data visualization tools give us the ability to take numbers or words on a page or computer screen, and to overlay a sense of order and meaning onto them by allowing us to visualize the same exact data set in new, relevant, and sometimes context-specific ways.

One of my favorite popularized versions of data visualization comes from Wordle, which enables users to utilize simple word frequency counts to visualize the key thrusts of a given text.  Here, for example is a Creative Commons licensed image representation of last night’s State of the Union address:

At a glance, it allows you to see the key themes, catch phrases, and priorities.  Better yet, this data visualization becomes more meaningful when you compare similar data inputs to each other, looking for differences.  For example, here is a comparison of McCain (top) & Obama (bottom) nomination acceptance speeches at the Republican & Democratic National Conventions, done by Flickr‘s Thomas Hawk:

Interesting comparison! No further comment necessary 🙂  Recently, a company called WordBloom has applied data visualization tools to the Christian faith by enabling users to visualize their sacred text. Think of this as a next generation Bible concordance (cross-referenced indexing tool often used by preachers or lay leaders to prepare sermons & Bible studies.)  Here are some examples of the capabilities:

Word-study around a particular English word:

Or, view a word cluster to illuminate the definition of a Hebrew or Greek word, such as with the Greek ischuo (strength/power/health) below, along with links to passages in which that word appears.

There are at least 2 promising elements of data visualization tools for people of faith:

  • They have the potential to support a democratization of sacred texts–no longer does a lay person have to own a multi-volume biblical concordance to be able to have a robust in-depth study of their scriptures.  As users are able to visualize the Christian message in different ways, perhaps new insights will stretch them and help them grow in their spiritual journey.
  • Inter-religous data visualization that could map sacred texts of faiths in a much more accessible and lightweight way than ever before, have potential to increase understanding between peoples.

My sense of Wordbloom in particular, is that they’ve gotten a great start at an inexpensive way to offer this tool (only $36 for an individual annually.)  Also, they purport to be supporting charitable work (and they transparently acknowledge it is evangelistic work) through 10% of their proceeds.

One challenge, however, is that data visualization is only as good as the data with which you’re working, and in this case, Wordbloom‘s data inputs seem to be limited to specific translations of the Bible, such as the King James version, or particular Biblical dictionaries or commentaries which will always be biased by a particular lens of interpretation (full list of data inputs, as well as those they are working on adding can be found here.)

Overall, an exciting development–looking forward to seeing more of these tools in the next decade!