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Data Viz News [23]

The weekly 'overdose' of news, articles, interviews, resources and much more

September 7, 2013


If there were still any questions about the privacy and safety (or lack of it) of Internet data, this week’s revelations about NSA’s Bullrun program published by The Guardian, The New York Times and ProPublica have shattered them all.

The fact that the NSA has managed to circumvented or cracked much of the encryption, or digital scrambling, that guards pretty much all the sensitive data out there (yes, global commerce and banking systems, trade secrets and medical records, e-mails, Web searches, Internet chats and phone calls) has caused indignation, but most important, it created a sense of distrust from which the impacts are yet to be seen. Companies like Google are fighting back, investing in more powerful encryption methods and technology, but the current military situation of the United States leaves little room for hope that the NSA stops scanning all that information.

This week we also have a couple of articles showcasing bad examples of data visualization – and no, it’s not the surprisingly horrible set of charts published by The Washington Post, or the strange psychedelic relationship of Wired with pie charts. Let’s just leave that to, or to data visualization experts like Kaiser Fung (Junk Charts) or Bryan Connor (The Why Axis), that criticize the ‘bad stuff’ but also show how it’s done right.

And, of course, there’s the round-up of articles about data visualization, data journalism, cartography and business analytics/Big Data, not to mention the interviews and the list of resources, including Andy Kirk’s amazing selection of tools, books and references, arguably the most relevant content of this list for those ho want to evolve in this field.

Hope you enjoy the full list!


Latest product launches and business announcements, career moves, data visualization competitions and general news.

As mentioned above, the latest of Edward Snowden’s top-secret documents to surface revealed that the US and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails.

The popular open source chart-creating tool Datawrapper has had a major upgrade. According to Sarah Marshall‘s report, “the plan is to support three versions of Datawrapper. The model is similar to WordPress, which is open source and has free and VIP options.”

SNDLouisville will host Society for News Design’s first hackathon. Hacktucky participants will work hands-on with some of the smartest people in the industry, and the goal is to build and ship a product ready for use in 24 hours. This is a free event with a limited number of seats, so, if you’d like to participate, fill out the proper form here.

Hacktucky, the Society for News Design’s first hackathon
Hacktucky, the Society for News Design’s first hackathon


User groups are a great strength of the R community, leading to face-to-face encounters with people from other companies and industries who are doing things with R that you haven’t thought about. And they continue to grow, as Joseph Rickert showed in this update. The map below plots the locations of the 127 R user groups listed in the directory maintained by the folks at Revolution Analytics.

Map of R group user worldwide
Map of R group user worldwide



A selection of recent articles published by experts in data visualization, cartography, business analytics and visual journalism, among other topics.

After writing about Many Eyes roughly 18 months ago – at the time, the free data visualization platform had announced a much-needed update – , Robert Kosara looks at what really changed and revisits the visualizations he created using data scraped from Many Eyes’ website.

A nice article by Curt Hinrichs, remembering the importance of John Wilder Tukey to modern statistics. Tukey is recognized as the father of exploratory data analysis, in part for creating many effective visual techniques such as the box plot and stem and leaf plot, which are standards in introductory statistics courses today.

The folks at the Sunlight Foundation have been informally crowdsourcing the most common 50-ish reasons not to release data that have been heard by those working both inside and out of government on the federal, state, and local level in the US.

The Staff Pick is a badge given to the best graphics submitted to Drew Skaw talks about one of those latest visualizations, the video-infographic Fracking Explained, by Philipp Dettmer.



Ranging from ancient charts to modern digital cartography and GIS technology, here you’ll find the best links of the week:

By combining data on land cover, land use and population density, researchers from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and McGill University visually captured 21 anthromes, ranging from urban settlements and irrigated villages to remote deserts and other barren lands. Using these data, Erle Ellis, Navin Ramankutty and Chad Monfreda zoomed into particular anthromes in seven countries, spanning six different continents, to show how human and natural landscapes have become one.

In this blog post, Alberto Cairo talks about the Racial Dot Map, the outstanding interactive visualization by Dustin A. Cable. Cable has written an article describing the methodology behind the map, and we’ve also feature it on one of our previous editions of Digital Cartography.

Partial screen capture of the interactive infographic Racial Dot Map
(image: The Racial Dot Map, by Dustin Cable)


David Fraser, the editor of eCARTO news, brings us the monthly compilations of links for the latest cartographic news and developments from around the world.

In 2012, Eric Rodenbeck‘s team at Stamen used a grant from the ZERO1 Biennial in San Jose (with the support of the James Irvine Foundation) to follow the corporate commuter shuttles around San Francisco, count people getting on and off them, and collate and combine their reports into a map of the area’s clandestine private transportation network. In this article, Erick provides a deep and insightful overview of that project.

The final map of Private Bus lines in San Francisco to Silicon Valley, by Stamen
The final map of Private Bus lines in San Francisco to Silicon Valley, by Stamen


A selection of maps that aim to explain the two years of civil war in Syria and potential military targets, with Daniel Brownstein ‘s wise considerations about the different ‘realities’ shown in these maps and the much more complex on-the ground situation. Several of these maps have been featured here and here.

Robert Simmon, Lead Data Visualizer and Information Designer at NASA’s Earth Observatory (and a regular presence in this weekly round-up here on Visual Loop), made a new map of the Rim fire’s progression into Yosemite National Park, with a sequential color scale.

For this article, Saikat Basu picked some of the most creative Google Maps mashups out there, including the After Earth Decay, the 787 Dreamliner Flight Tracker and A New Age of Exploration, among others.

Partial screen capture of the interactive infographic A New Age of Exploration
(image: A New Age of Exploration, by National Geographic)



The most recent articles with tips, insights and best practices around data journalism.


A funny post on a serious matter, again by Alberto Cairo. The serious part is the example of bad data visualization and poor journalist work that came from Spain’s public broadcaster (RTVE). The humorous touch is present in the imaginary dialogue between an unctuous apparatchik and the designer responsible for the graphics.

An interesting perspective of the Jeff Bezos/ Washington Post deal and a list of tips and insights for news organizations that they should implement to face the new digital environment. It was written by Owen Thomas.

A brief overview of the evolving field of investigative journalism and the new ways to fund it, posted by Sarah Marshall. It includes a list of investigative journalism startups and the several revenue streams they’re using to keep their journalistic activities running.

If you want to pursue a career in journalism, Multimedia storytelling, Data and statistical skills, as well as programming and audience development skills are just some of the current requisites demanded by the market. James Breiner, director of the Global Business Journalism program at Tsinghua University in Beijing, gives his opinion on this topic.

Data Journalist Peter Verweij spoke at the 17th edition of the Highway Africa conference. During his talk, he pointed out that newspaper circulation has been declining in the last decade, while online counterparts are gaining traction, and argues that journalists need to be analytical in their storytelling by mining the data already available to them.

The Open Data Toolkits and Assessment Tools workshop will be held on September 17, during the Open Knowledge Conference 2013, and will present some technical assistance tools and the emerging lessons from implementation of those in developing countries and discuss options for their improvement. The sixth guest post in the series of contributions by OKCon 2013 speakers is by Iulian Pogor (World Bank), Meghan Cook (University at Albany), Barbara Ubaldi (OECD) and Ton Zijlstra (Open Knowledge Foundation), who will be responsible for that workshop.

The Economist just celebrated 170 years since the first issue of the magazine was published, and released a fantastic slideshow of infographics from past issues, dating back to the first. Some of these will make great additions to our Vintage Infographics Pinterest board!

Electrical Production (1926), one of the vintage graphics relased  by The Economist
Electrical Production (1926), one of the vintage graphics relased by The Economist



Recent articles related to the wide range of data visualization applications for business analytics, as well as content surrounding the “Big Data” buzz.

There have been many blogs, articles, news snippets as well as cartoon sketches that were baked addressing need for data digestion, big-data, data analytics and Big Data. Vishal Kumar compiled 25 cartoon sketches that best describe the current state of big-data and its perception in enterprise world and the people around.

Dilbert had to present in this list of cartoons
Dilbert had to present in this list of cartoons


Many marketers often misread the value, impact and urgency of applying big data. Daniel Kehrer, Chief Content Officer at MarketShare, talks about how big data offers marketers the ability to make smarter allocation decisions and better understand the consumer.

The new report from TDWI Research, “Data Visualization and Discovery for Better Business Decisions” (pdf) highlights how data visualization has come to describe a large category of functions and applications in business analytics, over the past decade.

Social signals and conversations will increasingly play a more important role in media buying and the way marketers predict demand for products and services, and Twitter is possibly the best source to collect these data. Topsy wants to become a Google predictive analytics tool, using Twitter data, as Laurie Sullivan explains in this article.

‘EdgeRank’ is Facebook’s algorithm for sorting posts in users’ News Feeds. Belle Beth Cooper explains how the algorithm works and how you will be able to implement the knowledge next time you’re using Facebook, both as a user or a marketer.

Vincent Granville gives his thoughts on the article written by Google scientists about how to predict ad click based on user query and the text ad. The article focuses on the very large number of metrics in the model (billions of features), the use of some logistic regression , and optimization techniques to solve the logistic regression.

A couple of  presentations by Revolution Analytics’ US Chief Scientist Mario Inchiosa, and by the Director of Product Marketing Bill Jacobs. Mario gave a presentation on high-performance predictive analytics in R and Hadoop, showing how Revolution R Enterprise 7 will bring the high-performance predictable algorithms of ScaleR to run on Cloudera and Hortonworks Hadoop clusters, while retaining the same easy-to-use interface from the R language. Bill talked about the growth of the R language and some of the applications of in-Hadoop and in-database analytics with Revolution R Enterprise.



Insights from well-known names in the data visualization field, published during last week.

A long Q&A with ProPublica’s Jeff Larson, the news apps developer who helped report the story of the NSA’s Bullrun program and its encryption-cracking capabilities, and Scott Klein, news apps editor, about the investigative work that led to the story.

For DataKind’s first Expert in Residence interviews, they invited Parker Mitchell, a co-founder of the Engineers Without Borders Canada who’s spending time at DataKind over the summer helping with the mobilization of money, people and ideas.

This interview with Kaiser Fung, author of the popular blog Junk Charts and the freshly-released book Numbersense: How to Use Big Data to Your Advantage, was conducted by Arati Mejdal (we missed this one last week, but it’s worth mentioning here).

When we take the perspective of a consumer of data, we’ll realize that there is a limited number of decisions for which the data is affecting. The challenge for analysts is how to turn the massive stores of data into a few well-articulated solutions for easy consumption.



Ranging from tutorials and presentations, to lists of tools and practical guidelines for creating effective data visualizations.

Like we mentioned in the introduction, the list of resources available on Andy Kirk’s website has received a major update. This list, published in 2011, includes “some of the most important, effective, useful and practical data visualisation resources for creating and publishing visualisations, working with colour, handling data, places to obtain data, as well as some of the most influential books and a curated list of educational programmes/qualifications in data visualisation.”.

The use of color for visualizations in Excel is the center topic of this brilliant article by Jon Peltier. He looks back at the rudimentary color palette of Classic Excel and then explores the enhanced capabilities of the color system introduced in Office 2007. The comments are also worth reading.

This is the second part of a 2012 post featuring a showcase of some Examples of Creative Graphic Design Resumes. Now, Suresh Patel gathered dozens of new examples, some of which can also be found on our Infographic Resume Pinterest Board.

A showcase of ‘biblical’ visualizations, timelines and infographics curated by The Guardian’s Mona Chalbi, ranging from historical overviews to sentiment analysis.

Sentiment analysis of the Bible, by OpenBible, is one of the graphics featured in this post
Sentiment analysis of the Bible, by OpenBible, is one of the graphics featured in this post



An updated view at the Events Calendar we have available here on Visual Loop. You can send us the link to your event and we’ll include it here too.

The 6th annual Tableau Customer Conference will take place for the first time in the U.S east coast, at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Washington, D.C. Details here.

The 6th annual Tableau Customer Conference is about to start, with a great panel fo speakers.
The 6th annual Tableau Customer Conference is about to start, with a great panel fo speakers.


This one day-and-a-half event consists of intense discussion, networking, and sharing of wisdom from people across all industry that work with data. The the main conference will be hosted at the New York Academy of Medicine. More information here.

DataGotham 2013: September 12-13
DataGotham 2013: September 12-13

With 25+ Industry Speakers & 150+ delegates, this event brings together in Boston (MA, USA) the world’s leaders in the industry. More details here.

Data Visualization Summit, in Boston, MA
Data Visualization Summit, in Boston, MA


That’s it for another Data Viz News. Like we said before, feel free to let us know if we missed some interesting resource, and don’t forget to join us on our Facebook Group or, where we share many of the links mentioned above.

Written by Tiago Veloso

Tiago Veloso is the founder and editor of Visualoop and Visualoop Brasil . He is Portuguese, currently based in Bonito, Brazil.