Visual data: the digital graphics revolution – cont.

Today’s New York Times uses Flash animation to show how the financial crisis took the market capitalization of America’s banking titans from this (On October 7, 2007):


To this (on March 1, 2009):


And then back to this (last Friday):

TITANS - Friday

Note that the animated version, which you really should visit, uses color to show the relative shrinkage and growth of each bank. Gray is the baseline; green is growth; reddish-brown (who chose these colors?) is shrinkage.

Rollover text provides detail on each of the included banks.


Visual data: 2008 federal election on Google Earth

Stephen Taylor, a Conservative blogger who organized a series of rallies to protest last fall’s proposed coalition government, has created an extraordinary mashup of poll-by-poll results from the 2008 federal election and Google Earth.

The high definition (HD) video may take a few moments to load completely. Elections Canada provides the data that drives this extraordinary tool, but not in a format that Google Earth or Google Maps can read or import. Taylor crashed his computer several times coming up with a program to translate the data into a format Google could use.

Taylor’s creation will shade each federal poll result according to the party that won the poll, any given party’s share of the vote, or the voter turnout.

For the moment, Taylor has not released the KML file that would let Google Earth users play with the results of this project themselves. (KML stands for Keyhole Markup Language, the file format used to display geographic data in Google Earth and Google Maps.) But he is working on an application programming interface (API) that would let developers import similar data, such as the 2009 Nova Scotia election, into Google Maps.

Hattip: Michael Geist

Visual data: the digital revolution in graphs – feedback

One of the great things about running a blog is that when you write about something interesting that you know little about, readers rush in with a wealth of further information. Contrarian friend Andrew Weissman directed us to an extraordinary TED talk by Hans Rosling illustrating the phenomenal potential of the digital graphs we touched on this morning.

Rosling is a professor of international medicine at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet (the organization that hands out the Nobel Prize for Medicine). He discovered Konzo, a previously unknown paralytic disease associated with hunger in Africa. He also co-founded the Gapminder Foundation, which developed the Trendalyzer software that turns international health statistics into moving, interactive, and revelation-generating graphics for public use. Here’s a stunning example, from Rosling’s TED talk, “Hans Rosling shows the best stats you’ve ever seen.”

Notice how much data is compressed into the moving chart shown about three and a half minutes in. Each dot represents a country. The x-axis (horizontal) tracks the number of women per child in each county, a measure of family size. The y-axis (vertical) shows the percentage of a country’s children that survive to age five, a measure of health. The size of each dot represents its population, the color shows its region of the world.

When Rosling animates the chart, it brings 40+ years of history to life, starting in 1962. The dots become a beehive, moving purposefully through the decades. As they do, obscure trends in world health—many of them counter-intuitive—suddenly become obvious. Whereas the planet could aptly be divided into “developed world” and “third world” in 1962, Rosling shows that today’s world defies easy pigeon holes. Rosling’s software tools make sense of an otherwise impenetrable data set.

Well, don’t read about it. Watch the video.

Two years ago, Google purchased Trendalyzer. You can now add simple animated graphs to your website using a free Google Gadget called Motion Chart. Gapminder maintains a series of more sophisticated online tools to help people map world data they are prepared to share freely.

Visual data: The digital revolution: first writing, images, & maps; now graphs

One of the neat developments of the digital era is the rapid advance of what geeks call the visual presentation of numerical information. Just as word processors revolutionized the mechanics of writing, Photoshop revolutionized image manipulation, and Google Earth revolutionized mapping, new digital tools are giving everyday users the power to produce amazingly useful and instructive interactive graphs.

Two online newspapers produced beautiful examples this week:

USA Today Presidential Approval -c

USA Today produced this interactive approval tracker comparing the approval rating for all US presidents since Harry Truman. The crimped screen shot reproduced here doesn’t even hint at the power of this tool, so click on the photo to activate the link, and run your cursor over the image that appears.

Just how well is Barack Obama doing compared to George Bush, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, or John Kennedy? The graphic lets you compare the approval ratings of any two or more presidents at comparable stages of their presidencies. You can also see the chronological sweep of presidential popularity over the last 50 years—the view reproduced somewhat crudely above.

NYT How People Spend Time - c

The New York Times offers this interactive graphic showing how Americans spend their time. Again, the static image here barely hints at its power, so click on the link, and run your cursor over the image. This tool yields insights that no static graph can offer.

If contrarian readers know of groups that are putting Canadian data into similarly useful interactive formats, please let us know. One reason why American graphics geeks may have the jump on us: Most US federal and state data is in the public domain, while Canadian governments do to data what pirates do to treasure: bury it under copyright lock and key, where no one can find or use it.