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Data Viz News [51]

A long list of recommended reads for this Easter holiday

April 19, 2014

Before we move on to the 40+ recommended links we’ve separated for you, we’d like to leave a quick reminder for the other weekly round ups of interactive maps, data visualizations and print infographics, where we bring you some of the latest projects published all over the world.

Now, we could just say that Gnip’s acquisition by Twitter was one of the top news related to data visualization, or mention the death of Nobel award winning writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez or the new finding by the Kepler telescope (planet Kepler-186f) as the most important facts of the week.

But besides all this, what really caught our attention during the past days (and obviously, not ours alone) was the tone of criticism and discussion surrounding a couple of certain bad graphics. Most of the negative points, in these particular cases, are valid – at least, the ones made with a constructive purpose behind them -, and we have several posts that folks like Andy Kirk, Charles Apple and Alberto Cairo wrote on this.

The latest Data Stories episode is also worth mentioning here, as it continues a much-discussed topic in the data visualization community: Storytelling. Alberto Cairo and Robert Kosara were the guests invited by Moritz and Enrico for this episode – one of the best so far, for us.

And there’s a lot more, of course. Book reviews, interviews, tutorials and lists of resources about a variety of topics, all here in the reading list for this Easter weekend. Hope you enjoy!


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

As mentioned in the introduction, Twitter informed that is acquiring Gnip, a leading provider of social data and a long-standing Twitter data partner. In the official announcement, Jana Messerschmidt, Twitter’s VP of Global Business Development & Platform, added that “as Twitter has grown into a platform that delivers more than 500 million Tweets per day, Gnip has played a crucial role in collecting and digesting our public data and delivering the most essential Tweets to partners”, and that “Together we plan to offer more sophisticated data sets and better data enrichments, so that even more developers and businesses big and small around the world can drive innovation using the unique content that is shared on Twitter.”

Back in February, we mentioned in this space Twitter’s #DataGrants pilot program, an initiative with the goal of giving a handful of research institutions access to Twitter’s public and historical data. After reviewing more than 1,300 proposals from more than 60 different countries, they’ve selected six institutions, spanning four continents, to receive free datasets in order to move forward with their research.

The folks at ProPublica announced the release of Landline, an open source JavaScript library for turning GeoJSON data into browser-based SVG maps. It comes with Stateline, which builds on Landline to create U.S. state and county choropleth maps with very little code out-of-the-box. The full documentation is over at GitHub.

Partial screen capture of the interactive map Nursing Home Inspect
A variation of ‘Landline’ in action | ProPublica


The collaboration between the developers of Hudson Yards, on Manhattan’s West Side, and New York University is evidence of the potential for the emerging field of “urban informatics.” The developers, Related Companies and Oxford Properties Group, are teaming up with New York University’s Center for Urban Science and Progress to create a “quantified community.” Among the things expected to be measured and modeled: pedestrian flows, street traffic, air quality, energy use, waste disposal, recycling, and health and activity levels of workers and residents.

The Graphical Web is an annual, global conference to showcase the many new open source technologies that have become available for presenting visual information on the web. This year’s edition will happen between August 27 and 30, in Winchester, England, and among the confirmed speakers you’ll see names like Jason Davies, Scott Murray and Ed Parsons.

Following a trend initiated by platforms such as Elance, AngelList and, Harvard Innovation Labs has opened Experfy, a marketplace for a specialized use, the “big data/analytics/BI” specialist, as reported here by Dean Meiers. Individuals and consulting firms may both apply.


The Society of Professional Journalists announced that ProPublica’s “After the Flood” project was a winner in the informational graphics category of its 2013 Sigma Delta Chi Awards for excellence in journalism. Reported in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, “After the Flood” used stories, interactive maps and news applications to show how Congress and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have fallen catastrophically short in safeguarding the public from rising waters.

Partial screen capture of the interactive infographic New Maps and a New Plan for New York
(image: ProPublica)



A selection of recent articles published by experts in different fields of data visualization:

Later republished on Gizmodo, this article by Ravi Parikh does a good job showcasing 3 of the most common ways in which visualizations can be misleading. One of those examples is this graphic published on Business Insider, that generated quite a discussion on Twitter and led to some blog posts, like we mentioned in the introduction.

One of those first bloggers to comment on the inclusion of the Gun deaths in Florida chart in Ravi Parikh’s list was Andy Kirk. In his perspective, the graphic is not a ‘lie’ or intended to deceive the reader, it only uses a visual metaphor that was not clear – apparently for many people. Andy also wrote a follow-up post on this subject asking what’s happened to the trust?

Outlining the major errors committed on the Gun deaths in Florida chart, this is Alberto Cairo‘s response to Andy Kirk’s article, including updates and other links that take the discussion further deep.

Another epic visualization fail this week came from NBC News with the Changing Face of America infographic – as they called it on Twitter. Vox’s Matthew Yglesias offers a simple bar chart as a much more effective alternative, and Nathan Yau even opened up a small give-away at Flowing Data, for the comments about this map.

Longtime news artist and graphics reporter Charles Apple talks about the two ‘infographic fails’ mentioned above, sharing a bit of his experience with alternative ways of displaying information in graphics and leaving 8 quick rules to consider when creating a visualization.

The two 'infographic fails' of the week: 'Changing Face of America' (NBC News) and 'Gun deaths in Florida' (Reuters)
The two ‘infographic fails’ of the week: ‘Changing Face of America’ (NBC News) and ‘Gun deaths in Florida’ (Reuters)


And it looks like Business Insider is really having trouble with their visualization choices! In this quick post, Andy Kriebel remakes another of the website’s recent “chart fails” – or using Andy’s ‘technical’ term for describing this one, “a ringed donut”.

This one is a post about how Jon Schwabish prepared his “Short Story” talk for the Tapestry Conference that took place in Annapolis, last February. Jon explains in detail the challenges he faced to convey his message in just 15 minutes – which you can see in the video below, together with all the other Tapestry talks.


“Data versus Information” and “Visualization versus Analysis”. These are the basic core-concepts and distinctions Ryan Goodman recommends that organizations that are still struggling to create effective visualizations understand and think deeply about.

Another review of Manuel Lima‘s new book (we mentioned several ones last week), this one by Robert Kosara. Praising it as a beautiful “coffee-table book”, Robert points out that “ignoring interaction entirely seems like a big gap, even if it doesn’t lend itself that well to a printed book.”

Nancy Duarte shares five questions that have to be taken in consideration as you’re laying out your data to be visualized. Within each of those questions, a number of tips and technical advises that will help people understand and engage with presentation, document, or deck.

Derek Muller from the science video blog Veritasium visits with a team of “physics and chemistry demonstrators” who built this sound board that demonstrates the effect of sound waves traveling through flammable gas.



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

We don’t usually bring here Kickstarter projects, but The Kidsmap: For the Explorers of Tomorrow is definitively worth checking out. Simon Schuetz wants to inspire lifelong exploration in a younger generation with an map/game that not only teaches kids what they should learn about the world, but also tries to anticipate what they might actually want to know. More details on this article by Melissa Goldin,.

After the reactions to a guest post by political scientists Kyle Dropp, Joshua D. Kertzer, and Thomas Zeitzoff – mentioned in the previous edition of Data Viz News – , comes this follow-up by the authors, in which they respond to questions raised in response to their original post, and made available a more detailed and technical description of their methodology and findings. If you missed that post, the authors stated that many Americans have trouble placing Ukraine on a map and that there is a relationship between how inaccurate people were and attitudes related to U.S. military intervention.

For those of you that might not know of it, Where You Are is a beautiful book project published by Visual Editions last year. It comprises 12 individual pamphlets, some of which unfold into larger maps and diagrams, as described by Lauren Elkin in this post.

Nancy Scola wrote this nice overview of the YouAreHere project, being conducted at the MIT Media Lab’s Social Computing Group. The project’s ambition is massive: 100 maps revealing details of 100 different cities. We recently featured one of those visualizations, and here you have the full gallery, currently with 15 maps.

Partial screen capture of the YouAreHere project gallery
(image: YouAreHere project gallery)

A quick post by Jonathan Crowe about two books related to map art and personal cartography: Map Art Lab: 52 Exciting Art Explorations in Mapmaking, Imagination, and Travel by Jill K. Berry and Linden McNeilly; and Make Map Art: Creatively Illustrate Your World by Nate Padavick and Salli Swindell.

Google recently added GeoJSON support to the Google Maps API, and Keir Clarke points out to this Google Geo Developers blog post, with an interesting tutorial on “how to Build a Map Infographic with Google Maps & JavaScript”. You can check out the finished map here.

AJ Ashton, the lead cartographer at Mapbox, explains some of the features brought in to the new Mapbox Outdoors – a map designed for outdoor adventures . Mapbox Outdoors is available for Enterprise, and the company expects to roll it out for all Mapbox plans this summer.

This is the story of Glen McLaughlin‘s obsession over ancient maps showing California as an island, told here by Greg Miller. In 40 years, McLaughlin gathered more than 700 maps, mostly from the 17th and 18th centuries, and in 2011 he partly sold and partly donated his collection to Stanford University, which has digitized the maps and created an online exhibition.

Vintage English map from 1646.
(English map from 1646, showing California as an island)



The most recent articles with tips, insights and best practices around data journalism and information design in newsrooms.

A long article by Felix Salmon, on why the current boom in data journalism – the ‘Wonk Bubble’ – actually makes sense. Besides mentioning Vox and FiveThirtyEight, Salmon lists his top five reasons why, despite all the initial criticism, these initiatives will succeed.

Speaking of, the co-founder Melissa Bell shared with Ben Cardew some the site’s journalistic goals and how it provides the information to help readers stay in touch with news cycle. As far as the criticism that has been around since the site went live, she points out that Vox launched as work in progress so that the team could learn on the job, and she appreciates constructive critiques, as it helps the team to improve the site.

My new infographics motto: “It’s more complicated than that” | The Functional Art

And again about, in this case with Alberto Cairo alerting for the problems in the series of graphs titled These 15 charts show our health care prices are totally insane. These graphics not only oversimplify the topic, but they have some accuracy issues that Alberto explains in detail.

Quoting several well-known historical examples, Jill Filipovic gives her opinion for the reasons why magazine cover images still hold so much cultural power in this decline-of-print era.

Magazine real estate may be rendered more valuable by virtue of the fact that it’s more permanent—if you have a hard copy of a magazine you can store it away without the fear that you might go to read it one day and find an “Error: Page Unknown” message.



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

Presentation by the Data Editor of The Economist and author Kenneth Cukier at TEDxWarwick 2014, held in Butterworth Hall, Warwick Arts Centre on 2nd March.


A simple way to look at the Big Data/Open Data relationship, suggested by Joel Gurin, senior adviser at GovLab at New York University. According to him, “Big data gives us unprecedented power to understand, analyse, and ultimately change the world we live in. Open data ensures that power will be shared – and that the world we change will, with luck, become a fairer and more democratic one.”

As Jim Edwards points out, Gnip is the fourth acquisition that Twitter has made in the data space, and in this article he takes a look at the business value the company has been building over the years. He also asks why there’s so little talk about this particular business path:

If some 25-year-old Stanford grad had built an app that threw off $100 million in data fees every year, she would be touting a valuation in the billions and fighting off acquisition offers from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. But because data licensing is tucked inside Twitter, no one cares.

Kaiser Fung explains the main reasons why so many A/B tests fail, and talks about PlanOut, an open platform for running online experiments launched recently by the Facebook Data Science team. PlanOut gives engineers and scientists a language for defining random assignment procedures. Experiments, ranging from simple A/B tests, to factorial designs that decompose large interface changes, to more complex within-subjects designs, can be expressed with only a few lines of code.

London-based Future Foundation shared this presentation with the views of multiple authors about the promises and impacts of Big Data in our lives.


Tapping into big data, researchers and planners are building mathematical models of personal and civic behavior. Nicholas Carr talked about these experiments with the author of Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread—The Lessons from a New Science, Alex Pentland, a data scientist who, as the director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, has long used computers to study the behavior of businesses and other organizations.

For those thinking that ‘big data’ is something new, here’s an interactive timeline going back to 1800, published by WinShuttle.

Partial screen capture of the interactive infographic Big Data Timeline
(image: WinShuttle)



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

A hot topic being discussed in this Data Stories episode. For the past couple of weeks, we’ve all seen the many blog posts about data visualization and storytelling, and this episode featuring Alberto Cairo and Robert Kosara pretty much summarizes the whole discussion. Both Alberto and Robert wrote blog posts about the episode (here and here).

San Francisco Chronicle designer Christopher T. Fong chatted with Matt Petty, creative director of the San Francisco Business Times, which launched their redesign last Friday.

Dean Meyers had the chance to meet Phil Simon, author of The Visual Organization: Data Visualization, Big Data, and the Quest for Better Decisions, last week to talk about the book, his own story, and how the Visual Organization uses data visualizations.



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

The European Journalism Centre has released interviews with all the instructors in the upcoming MOOC Doing Journalism With Data, set to begin on May 19th. Alberto Cairo is one of the instructors and, inspired by a similar initiative by Nathan Yau, threw in a book-challenge for those who watch his interview.


Many well-known data visualization tools available out there are in this list, prepared by Gavin McLeod, but we did miss and Tableau Public, just to name a few – although the title does says “simple tools”. A good time to mention Andy Kirk‘s amazing Essential Collection of Visualisation Resources section of his website, for a much more complete list.

Written by Shelly Tan, this post covers five useful tools that will help anyone that has to deal with data scrapping in journalism. A couple of these require some basic knowledge of Python.

A list of recommended reads, posted by Vincent Granville. These books cover aspects like data mining, visualization, application development and machine learning, all using the programming language Python.

A simple detail that makes a huge difference, as soon as you think about it. Arrow charts are an effective way of showing how values changed from one point in time to another, and Ben Jones teaches how to use arrowhead shapes that end in the middle rather than the edges, to avoid small inaccuracies.

No, it’s not a Powerpoint version of Moritz Stefaner and Enrico Bertini‘s podcast! Instead, it’s a booklet on how to use storytelling and effective visual communication in business when preparing some form of communication, such as reports and presentations. Authored by Miriam Gilbert.



An updated view at the Events Calendar we have available here on Visual Loop.

Data Viz Calendar


That’s it for another Data Viz News. Thanks for reading it all, and have a great Easter holiday!

Written by Tiago Veloso

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