For the final page of Popular Science's November 2011 issue on the topic of Big Data, Jer Thorpe was commissioned to turn the back page's "Future Then" column into a data visualization showing word usage frequency across PopSci's 140-year publishing history. To generate the visualization, Jer had to build software in Processing to parse several gigabytes of OCR text, with the output being the static graphic that ran in print.
When it came time to prepare the Big Data stories for the Web, which we condensed into a single-topic week of coverage, we thought we wanted to figure out a way to let our online readers play with the software Jer had created. Working with Pitch Interactive, we created the PopSci Archive Explorer. Enter any search term, and that word's appearances in each issue are visualized from 1873 onwards. In the grid view, the colors of the squares reflect the density of occurences in each issue. Switch to the spiral view, and another surprise awaits: each circle is shaded to represent the aggregate color of that issue's cover.