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Visualizing Data: Often Baffling

October 29, 2014

I read “72 Hours of #Gamergate.” I don’t follow the high buck world of video games. The write up contains oodles of data. Some of the information is in the form of bar charts. Other information is presented in words, spreadsheets, and graphics. I am okay with the bar charts. These have labels and numbers on the x and y axes. The visualization show below baffles me:


The image adds graphic impact. I have been in briefings in which senior executives and military brass have presented similar visualizations.

I suppose clarity is less important than sizzle. Analytics vendors, are you listening? I think not if this graphic is any indication of the way data are presented.

Stephen E Arnold, October 29, 2014

Building Lovely Data Visualizations

June 25, 2014

Data is no longer just facts, figures, and black and white graphs. Data visualizations are becoming an increasingly important way that data (and even Big Data) is demonstrated and communicated. A few data visualization solutions are making big waves, and Visage is one on the rise. It is highlighted in the FastCompany article, “A Tool For Building Beautiful Data Visualizations.”

The article begins:

Visage, a newly launched platform, provides custom templates for graphics. There are myriad tools on the market that do this (for a gander at 30 of them, check out this list), but Visage is the latest, and it’s gaining traction with designers at Mashable, MSNBC, and A&E. That’s due in part to Visage’s offerings, which are designed to be more flexible, and more personalized, than other services.”

More and more companies are working on ways to help organizations decipher and make sense of Big Data. But what good is the information if it cannot be effectively communicated? This is where data visualizations come in – helping to communicate complex data through clean visuals.

Emily Rae Aldridge, June 25, 2014

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Visage Dubbed the Latest in Visualization Software

June 11, 2014

The big data boom has made it vital for many companies to quickly and easily translate data points into pretty pictures. Now, FastCompany reports on the latest tool to help with that in, “A Tool for Building Beautiful Data Visualizations.” Of course, there are many programs that supply custom graphics templates for data visualization, and writer Margaret Rhodes links to an article that describes 30 of them. What makes this latest tool, called Visage, different enough to entice designers at prominent sites like Mashable, MSNBC, and A&E? It’s all about the flexibility, especially in branding. Rhodes explains:

That on-brand bit is where Visage shines. “There’s a spectrum of how people define ‘on brand,'” [Visage co-founder Jake] Burkett tells Co.Design. “What’s sufficient for most people are fonts and color palettes.” Visage’s tool has what Burkett calls “canned logos and color palettes,” but they’ll also produce templates in customized color selections–free of charge. “Give us your brand guidelines; it just takes us a little time,” Burkett says.

For taller orders, the Visage team will build a more sophisticated set of tools to channel a company’s visual language. They’ll be available only for the company in question, and even be made as open-source templates, so designers on staff can tweak them on the go. “Everything is designed to be dynamic,” Burkett says.

The Visage platform was launched in 2012 by Column Five Media. Founded in 2009, the design and branding company is based in Newport Beach, California, and maintains an office in Brooklyn, New York City. They also happen to be hiring as of this writing.

Cynthia Murrell, June 11, 2014

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Using Real Data to Mislead

May 14, 2014

Viewers of graphs, beware! Data visualization has been around for a very long time, but it has become ubiquitous since the onset of Big Data. Now, the Heap Data Blog warns us to pay closer attention in, “How to Lie with Data Visualization.” Illustrating his explanation with clear examples, writer Ravi Parikh outlines three common ways a graphic can be manipulated to present a picture that actually contradicts the data used to build it. The first is the truncated Y-axis. Parikh writes:

“One of the easiest ways to misrepresent your data is by messing with the y-axis of a bar graph, line graph, or scatter plot. In most cases, the y-axis ranges from 0 to a maximum value that encompasses the range of the data. However, sometimes we change the range to better highlight the differences. Taken to an extreme, this technique can make differences in data seem much larger than they are.”

The example here presents two charts on rising interest rates. On the first, the Y-axis ranges from 3.140% to 3.154% — a narrow range that makes the rise from 2008 to 2012 look quite dramatic. However, on the next chart the rise seems nigh non-existent; this one presents a more relevant span of 0.00% to 3.50% on the Y-axis.

Another method of misrepresentation is to present numbers, particularly revenue, cumulatively instead of from year-to-year or quarter-to-quarter. Parikh notes that Apple’s iPhone sales graph from last September is a prominent example of this tactic.

Finally, one can mislead one’s audience by violating conventions. The real-world example here presents a pie chart in which the slices add up to 193%. The network that created it had to know that cursory viewers would pay more attention to the bright colors than to the numbers. The write-up observes:

“The three slices of the pie don’t add up to 100%. The survey presumably allowed for multiple responses, in which case a bar chart would be more appropriate. Instead, we get the impression that each of the three candidates have about a third of the support, which isn’t the case.”

See the article for more examples, but the upshot is clear. Parikh concludes:

“Be careful when designing visualizations, and be extra careful when interpreting graphs created by others. We’ve covered three common techniques, but it’s just the surface of how people use data visualization to mislead.”

Cynthia Murrell, May 14, 2014

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

New York Public Library Posts Maps

April 5, 2014

The New York Public Library has a massive collection of beautiful maps, but instead of keeping them locked in an archive Motherboard reports, “The New York Public Library Releases 20,000 Beautiful High Resolution Maps.”

All of the 20,000 maps are available via open access. What is even more amazing is that the NYPL decided to release the maps under the Creative Commons CCO 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication. If you are unfamiliar with a Creative Commons license, it means that users are free to download content and do whatever they want with it.

“Combined with its existing historical GIS program, the NYPL wants its users to engage with the maps, and allows them to warp (fitting together based on corresponding anchor points) and overlay the historic maps with modern geoweb services like Google and Open Street Map. Users can export WMS, KML files, and high-quality TIFFs. The historic map appears side by side with the modern maps, and users are invited to mark corresponding points on each, so you can overlay the historic map over the current day’s.”

Google Maps using old maps to explore the world of the past. It is yet another amazing use of modern technology and makes one wonder what people of yesterday would have thought about exploring their world via a small box.

Whitney Grace, April 5, 2014

Free Knowledgebase Builder for Mind Mapping

February 24, 2014

Mind maps can be a valuable tool for the visual among us, and you can easily build your own virtual version with Knowledgebase Builder 2.6 from InfoRapid, based in Waiblingen, Germany. The best part—it’s free for personal use. As with most such business models, the company hopes you’ll try the freeware version and decide you can’t live without the tool in your workplace. The Professional Edition, which lets multiple users work together on the same knowledge base, goes for 99 euros (about $135 as of this writing). The price for the version with all the bells and whistles, the Enterprise Version, varies by company size, but starts at 1,000 euros (about $1,360 as I type) for a small business.

The description tells us:

“InfoRapid KnowledgeBase Builder allows you to easily create complex Mind Maps with millions of interconnected items. One single Mind Map can hold your entire knowledge, all your thoughts and ideas in a clear way. The data is stored securely in a local database file. While traditional Mind Maps don’t offer cross connections, InfoRapid KnowledgeBase Builder can connect any item with each other and label the connection lines. The program contains an archive for documents, images and web pages that may be imported and attached to any chart item or connection line.”

The six-minute video on the website demonstrates the Builder’s functionality, using as its example text about the software itself. The connection lines they mention above, which shift to adjust to new input, are reason enough to switch from pen-and-paper or MSPaint mapping techniques. Another key feature: You can link to documents or web pages from within the map, simplifying follow-through (a weak point for many of us.) The Highlighter Analysis is pretty nifty, too. Anyone curious about this tool should check out the site—the (personal use) price can’t be beat.

Cynthia Murrell, February 24, 2014

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Visual Mining Redesign

January 18, 2014

We are familiar with Visual Mining and its range of dashboard and data visualization software. Currently, Visual Mining has been working on products that help users better understand and analyze actionable business data. Its enterprise software line NetCharts is compatible across all platforms, including mobile and tablets. The company recently released their Winter 2013 Chartline Newsletter.

Along with the usual end of the year greetings and gratitudes, the first note of business in the newsletter addresses is the Web site’s redesign.

Among the new features are:

  • “Live Demo We would like to invite you to take a virtual test drive of our live NetCharts Performance Dashboards (NCPD) demo to see our newly restyled dashboard KPI’s.
  • Blog Among the new items to explore on our site includes our new blog. This developer driven blog features new content with many different topics including tips and simple tricks to help you build and style your charts and dashboards. Keep coming back for lots more new content that will be added each month.
  • Chart Gallery We also have a new chart gallery, which features all new examples with many different kinds of chart types to demonstrate some of the countless possibilities. We also added new chart type categories such as Alerting Charts and Showcase Charts. The Alerting Charts include different chart types that use alert zones while the Showcase category features chart examples with new and unusual styling approaches to demonstrate the flexibility of our charts.”

We have to wonder if the redesign came from the lack of Web traffic. Most Web sites are losing traffic, among them are content processing vendors. Does Visual Mining hope to generate sales more traffic based on their new look? We hope so.

Whitney Grace, January 18, 2014

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

The Future of Search: Incomprehensible Visualizations?

November 24, 2013

I have watched time shrink in the last 50 years. I recall having time in my first job. I did not feel pressured to do the rush rush thing. Now, when I accept an engagement, the work has to be done in double time in half the time, maybe faster.

As a result, reports have to be short. Graphics have to point out one key point. Presentations have to be six or eight PowerPoint slides. Big decisions are made in a heartbeat. The go go years were the slow slow years.

I took a look at Kantar Information Is Beautiful Awards. I think I saw the future of search. Users want information presented with Hollywood style visuals. Does it matter that the visualizations are incomprehensible? I don’t think so. Style takes precedence over clarity. I can visualize senior managers telling their colleagues, “I want graphics like these Kantar winners in my next PowerPoint.”

Here’s a winning visual.

How to win an Oscar - Christian Tate


The confusion of clarity with visual zing is interesting. As search vendors struggle to find a formula that generates top line revenue growth and yields net profits, are visualizations like the Kantar winners the future of search? I think the answer may be, “Absolutely.”

Vendors are not sure what they are selling. Whether it is BA Insight’s effort to get LinkedIn search group participants to explain the key attributes of search or other vendors slapping on buzzwords to activate a sales magnet, search is confused, lost maybe. Coveo is search, customer support and more. MarkLogic is XML data management, search, and business intelligence. Amazon, Google, IBM, and Microsoft search does everything one would want in the way of information access. Open source ElasticSearch, LucidWorks, and Searchdaimon are signaling a turn into the path that proprietary Verity blazed in 1988. Vendors do everything in an all out effort to close deals. Visualization may be the secret ingredient that gives search focus, purpose, and money.

Why not skip requiring a user to read, analyze, and synthesize? Boring. Why not present a predigested special effect? Exciting. Everyone will be happier.

Decisions making seems to be in a crisis. Pictures instead of works may improve senior managers’ batting averages.

Relying on incomprehensible visuals to communicate will be more fun and prove to be more lucrative. I assume audiences will applaud, cheer, and stomp their feet. Conferences can sell popcorn and soft drinks to accompany the talks.

Go snappy graphics. Will I understand them at a glance. Nope.

Stephen E Arnold, November 24, 2013

Data Science Explained With an Infographic

November 8, 2013

Data Science is a hot industry. Even though data scientists have been around for decades, but it is only the proliferation of new devices and data streams that have brought the career to the Internet spotlight. Data Science is more than monitoring reports about data or even the big data revolution. Data Science is an intricate and interesting science and to understand it better check out the infographic labeled: “Data Science: More Than Mining.”

The graphic explains that data science has exploded:

“Proliferation of sensors, mobile and social trends provide explosive growth of new types of data. Data scientists are creating the tools that can be used to interpret and help translate the streams of information into innovative new products. Social media platforms such as Facebook depend on data science to create innovative, interactive features that encourage users to get interested and stay that way.”

The basic of data science are data mining, statistics, interpretation, and leveraging. The data scientist interacts with the data by asking questions about how to apply the information in new ways and better the process. Data scientists are hardly people off the street, they require the skills of hacker, mathematician, and an artist. Mixing all those together goes makes a data scientist a very diverse person and able to see how to apply the data in new, unknown ways. It is amazing how data science has shaped society from behind the current since 1790.

Whitney Grace, November 08, 2013

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

The Importance of Good Data Visualization

November 3, 2013

A post at Ushahidi’s blog titled, “With Data, Never Underestimate the Power of a Pretty Picture” reminds us how important the arrangement of data into a palatable format can be. The write-up begins:

“There is power in data. Data can tell important stories, from which politicians are corrupt to which corporations are breaking the law. However, like any good story its power is dependent on being compelling to audiences — being a page-turner.”

Writer Chris R. Albon illustrates the point with two tables. The first presents real data in a bare-bones format that can only be read by those with some basic data science training. I, for one, cannot make heads or tails of it. The second is a polished presentation of gibberish; it really looks quite nice. Albon explains:

“The simple fact is that if both the table and image were placed on the desks of policymakers, journalists, business leaders, and politicians, it would undoubtedly be the image that interested them — that enticed them to examine it and kept their attention all the way through. The image’s ability to be compelling means that at the end of the day, it is going have a much stronger chance of having a real impact.”

Of course, the piece concludes by noting that Ushahidi is the place to go for all your data-visualization needs. (There are others out there.) The self-promotion, however, does not undercut the message: readers are much more likely to pay attention to, and understand, data if it is presented in a well-designed graphic.

Cynthia Murrell, November 03, 2013

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

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