UIST 2008 Paper: using data visualization to improve a forum

An example of the changes we made.

Project Description

We believed that displaying geographic data could influence the behavior of users on the Internet. Based upon the experiences of the group, we decided to test our hypothesis on a forum devoted to small-scale farming, because we believed geographic data would be particularly relevant to those users.

Neil Patel, Steve Marmon, and I collaborated on this project.

Skills Used

  • Interaction design
  • Data visualization
  • PHP

Design Process

We worked with The Rodale Institute, who run a forum called newfarm. They were very excited about the collaboration, and allowed us to modify their forum. We added maps to each thread, then ran an A/B test with three cases:

  1. the location of all the thread’s viewers displayed on the maps
  2. the location of both its viewers and posters displayed on the maps
  3. no map shown

We then measured how the maps affected the users’ viewing behavior on the forum.


From our paper: For the most active threads, we found that maps showing posters significantly increased geographic clustering of viewers. However, interviews with forum users revealed that other information, such as soil type or climatic zone, would be more useful for navigating content.

We wrote our results up as a short paper, and also presented at UIST with a poster:

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