Technology and sustainability

What is visual and immersive analytics?


As virtual reality grows exponentially, immersive analytics and visual analytics also grow in importance. These days, immersive analytics is quite over-hyped as a marketing method, in which this term is added to make products look ‘better’ or more attractive. We should, however, be clear in using these terms the right way, and we should also be clear about its definition and use.

In this article we discuss both immersive analytics and visual analytics in order to define the difference between the two. This way, both can be used in their own strength.

What is immersive analytics?

A simple definition of immersive analytics is: An immersive experience elicits the realistic feeling of being present or being there, within a virtual space. The consciousness of a person is not within the actual space and reality, but rather in an alternative space or reality. It’s a bit of a mind trick: a new context in which a person acts. This feeling is stimulated extra when an avatar it used within the immersive space, to enhance the immersive experience, especially when the immersive experience is experienced with others.

See this great example of an immersive experience: the Van Gogh Experience.

There are several definitions of ‘immersive’ in the dictionary:

  1. Study with extensive exposure within a pertinent environment
  2. Absorb in some interest
  3. Deep mental involvement
  4. Plunging into a liquid

I focus on the first three definitions of ‘immersive’.

Immersive analytics and immersive experience is not only a mind trick, but more a psychological trick and a philosophical trick.

The definition of immersive analytics then is: being with other people to generalize beyond data that is known about a system. In immersive analytics we therefor have the following aspects:

  • Group (others)
  • Place or context (being there)
  • Activity or purpose (generalizing)
  • Focus or object (the system)

So immersive analytics is really not new, but is gaining more importance in different fields.

And to continue: what is visual analytics and how does visual analytics differ with immersive analytics?


What is visual analytics?

Visual analytics is something else. The goal of visual analytics is to visualize data in order to analyse it easier and differently. It helps users to discover patters and new insights in order to make better decisions. Visual analytics is using processes and tools in order to analyse datasets by using visual representations of data. Data can be visualized by maps, charts and graphics.

Don’t get me wrong: visual analytics is not simply using graphics to analyse data. It is rather an interactive and modern way to analyse data directly within the data visualisation. In some cases, visual analytics is therefor a better way to analyse data. In other cases, especially when you have another goal with the analysis, immersive analytics might be a better method.

Read more: Climate change explained in 5 charts

Immersive experience is not new

Immersive analytics is not new, but rather emerging in for example the fields of marketing and product development. For example, thousands of years ago hunters would discuss the hunt of the next day by the campfire, describing success stories from the past, discuss the plans and decide upon strategies. Perhaps the leader was very successful in creating an immersive experience, enhancing the chance on success the next day.

Although these days technology decides the way we use immersive analytics, it is not a necessary ingredient of immersive experience, although it definitely helps. Fantasy, myths and storytelling have been used for centuries to create an immersive experience without the use of technology.


Example of immersive experience

A few years ago I had a flight from Amsterdam to San Francisco. It was an 11-hour flight. On Amsterdam Schiphol Airport I bought a book of the famous Chilean writer Isabel Allende. When taking my seat in the plane I started reading and I couldn’t stop until landing. I was completely taken by the book and story. The 11-hour flight seemed like only 1 hour. Instead of being on a plane for 11 hours, I felt as if I was in 19th and 20th century Chile. It was an immersive experience that I never forgot.

Difference between immersive analytics and visual analytics

These days, the world of data is more of an immersive virtual space, in which objects are generated by data and represent the causal relationship with a system that is complex. Many data analysts use an approach in which the necessary data is being brought together in the same context in order to manage en understand the system. On the other hand, visual analytics focuses on only one context at the time, and not on a system of different contexts.

These are different methods, with different steps and complexity.

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