This site is turning big data into small bites of addictive fun
I’m terrible at maths. When I die, the first things to escape my decomposing corpse will probably be all the integers I should have carried over and didn’t. It’s probably why I love data visualisations. I’d devour the National Geographic pullout maps and graphs before the articles. I suspect I was a fan of CSI and House more because they explained blood-spatter velocity than because I like whodunits. And that’s why I’m obsessed with everything on neal.fun.
The site is deceptively simple: 17 links, with titles that range from Baby Map and The Size of Space, to Printing Money, Progress, and Paper. Each is a web experiment designed to entertain, educate and test what data can do.
Baby Map, for instance, uses population stats on a world map, illuminating a nation every time a baby is born there. The result, a real-time snapshot in which India and China look like they’re at the disco, while northern Europe and Japan appear to have turned off their electricity.
Some pages are interactive. Enter your date and year of birth into the Life Stats page and scroll away. It will measure not just what’s happened to you since you were born (heartbeats, blinks, breaths) but what’s happened to the world. I’ve been alive for a while; it’s scary to know that Earth has accumulated 20% more CO2. But it’s wonderful to learn that I’ve been asleep for 4,600 days, though I’d still like five minutes more.
You’ll probably love Deep Sea. It’s a scrolled-to-scale look at how the sea and marine life change the deeper you go. The Size of Space operates on a similar principle; it’s an epic step-by-step zoom-out to see how minuscule we get in comparison to objects in the universe. Makes you really think about real estate prices, but then, there’s no running water on Jupiter.
The site is the creation of Neal Agarwal, who graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in computer science and says he’d had a passion for creative coding since he was 10. His other works include TenYearsAgo.io, which offers a look at what popular websites looked like 10 years ago; EverySecond.io, which simply visualises commercial successes — how many Apple Store visits, Instagram likes, Disneyland visits and so on occur every second.
Neal.fun, however, is a delight. It turns big data into almost a game. It cleverly critiques capitalism (just look at how many thousands of dollars Walmart rakes in in the seconds it takes for a minimum-wage earner to earn one dollar). It’s not surprising that schools have begun using the site to explain data to young students.
There are a few duds among his other pages. Neal’s Life Checklist page of 66 items seems pointless, given that no two users will have the same hopes and dreams. His Grandpa’s Art Show encourages you to virtually scribble on famous works of art — a move that is neither original nor useful to understanding art. Perhaps this was not on Neal’s Life Checklist. Neal.fun should certainly be on yours.