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Data Viz News [62]

More than 50 new links on data journalism, visualization and cartography

July 26, 2014

Welcome to another edition of Data Viz News, our regular bulletin of content published around the web. And this is a particularly intense edition, since we’re covering a period of two weeks, after our trip to Berlin, for the Open Knowledge Festival (in case you missed, lots of resources about this event here).

Within the more than 50 links, a few announcements deserve our special attention, like the most recent addition to the ‘Explanatory Journalism’ websites, The Washington Post’s long-awaited successor to Ezra Klein’s Wonk Blog, Storyline. Let’s hope that it doesn’t fall into the same mistakes like others did – a topic that, by the way, continues to generate heated reactions, as you will see in the section dedicated to data journalism.

Still in the newspaper industry, a quick mention to The New Yorker’s online redesign and to The Wall Street Journal’s 125th anniversary, and to a guest post published here on Visual Loop, that is already one of our most shared contents: the ‘behind the scenes’ of The Times of Oman/Al Shabiba’s 3D World Cup Dataviz Ball, by our good friend Antonio Farach. A spectacular project, that has been highly praised by the community.

It’s really great to be able to feature such high-quality projects, in a time when bad infographics, maps and charts seem to be everywhere. We have a half-dozen posts criticizing/making fun of bad visualizations, including ones from popular visualization blogs such as Nathan Yau‘s Flowing Data and Robert Kosara‘s Eager Eyes, and also articles that provide the kind of help you’d expect from experienced practitioners – like Ben JonesSix Principles of Communicating Data checklist.

But all this, of course, is just a brief summary of what we separated for you. For more resources, interviews, presentations and announcements – like, five or six new data viz tools -, just sit back and enjoy this week’s recommended links:


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

One of the most famous visualization contests is now open for submissions. The winners of the 2014 edition Kantar Information is Beautiful Awards will be announced in November, and if you’re interested in participating, you have until September, 1, to send your entry. Meanwhile, you can have a look at some of 2013 and 2012 winners here.

Like we said in the introduction, the field of ‘explanatory journalism’ gains yet another player, with the launch of The Washington Post’s Storyline, a website “dedicated to the power of stories to help us understand complicated, critical things.” The announcement came from the editor Jim Tankersley, a long-time policy correspondent that was called in to lead the new initiative after Ezra Klein’s departure from the Post.

Greek will be the twelfth language the Data Journalism Handbook has been translated into so far. It was co-edited by Jonathan Gray, Liliana Bounegru and Lucy Chambers, and, at this time, translations are also available and forthcoming in Arabic, Chinese, Czech, French, Georgian, Italian, Macedonian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Ukrainian.

(image: The Data Journalism Handbooki)


Five data-driven projects produced during the regional hackathon La Ruta de Dinero (The Money Trail) will receive support from HacksLabs, the first accelerator of data journalism projects in Latin America. The projects focus on improving transparency and accountability in Colombia, Chile and Argentina, and the regional hackathon involving 12 countries was coordinated by Mariano Blejman, as part of his ICFJ Knight International Journalism Fellowship.

One of the top announcements during the Open Knowledge Festival, that took place in Berlin, last week. During the next six months, twelve School of Data Fellows will train and collaborate with civil society and journalists to drive accountability, transparency and social change across five continents. More than 200 candidates applied to join the programme.

All the 20 visualization projects running the Storytelling Viz Contest, run by Tableau. These are the last batch of entries to the Iron Viz at the Tableau Conference in Seattle in September (by the way, the programme for this event has just been released), and the winner will join John Mathis, who won of the Elite 8 Sports Viz Contest last March and Jeffrey Shaffer, the winner of the Quantified Self Viz Contest.

Alex Breuer, creative director of The Guardian, joins an impressive roster of speakers at SND Frankfurt, that also includes John Niedermeyer, Laura Koot, Ibrahim Nehme, Lukas Kircher, Sara Quinn, and Juan Velasco – who we interviewed recently here. The 2014 SND annual workshop will be September 25-27, 2014, at the Frankfurt am Main Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

A GIS conference tailor-made for the California, Nevada, Hawaii and Pacific Islands region, Esri Pacific User Conference‘s call for presentations and registration are now open. This year, Esri is bringing the latest geospatial technology and insight back to Sacramento for two days of learning, collaborating, and getting answers from Esri pros.

As a soft-launch, Alberto Cairo announced a new website for all things related to visualization that are happening at the University of Miami. Several departments, faculty members, and students regularly design visual representations of data and information, and conduct research intended to define best practices in information design, GIS, news infographics, etc. In this space you’ll have the chance to know more about them.

A few weeks ago, the folks behind ArcGIS released a bunch of new and improved map and apps in Land Records, Water Utilities, Public Works, Fire Service, Emergency Management, and Law Enforcement. And like they do in every release, the local government add-ins and the local government information model were updated. In this article is a summary of what you will find in the June release.

We begin our ‘tour’ of new data visualization tools with BlockSpring, a product that lets you build visualizations from ‘blocks’ developed by engineers within your organization, and from around the world. Along side with the announcement, a detailed tutorial explaining how to use it.

Partial screen capture of the website Blockspring
(Image: Blockspring)


Over forty bugfixes and several new features are included in the version 0.5 of Bokeh, an interactive web plotting library for Python, such as support for Widgets and Dashboards, preliminary integration of Abstract Rendering for big data visualization, and a new schematic bokeh.charts interface for very high level statistical charting.

One of Tableau’s top competitors, Qlik, is preparing to offer a free version of its Qlik Sense Desktop with no restrictions on either personal or commercial use. Like with Tableau Public, it, too, promises to provide end-users with ways to create interactive visualizations of data that can be shared with others. According to the announcement, the full Qlik Sense product (no pricing has been set yet) will be generally available in September 2014. Qlik described it as “server-based” and “enabling server side development from any device, flexible mobile use, collaboration and sharing, custom development, and data integration.”

This one has been already mentioned here on Visual Loop, in our weekly round up of interactive maps. CartoDB presented Odyssey.js, an open source library that allows journalists, designers and creators to weave interactive stories on the web. The development has been possible thanks to the support of John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and there are already several interesting projects being published using this tool.

Partial screen capture of the interactive map Virginia Beaches
(image: Virginia Beaches, developed by Jonah Adkins with Odissey.js)


While celebrating the 26th anniversary of the launch of Wolfram Research’s Mathematica, the computational knowledge engine company made available to the public the Wolfram Programming Cloud. This new offering – the first in a sequence of products based on the new Wolfram Language -, is specifically designed to let users create and deploy cloud-based programs.

New announcements coming almost every week, out of CartoDB. Here, they celebrate the platform’s growing popularity with a 10x increase in space for free accounts. These changes are immediate, so if you are using a free account, you should be able to login and see the 50MBs update right now.

Not a new tool, but a data services provider that was just launched. “We’re a new kind of research company that will help you recognize and develop new product and business opportunities through emerging technologies.” That’s what you read when entering Fast Forward Labs‘ website. Founded by Hilary Mason (who’s also the CEO), the company aims to publish exclusive research papers every few months, describing an emerging technology, how it works, the current landscape of the technology (commercial, academic, and open source), and some predictions for where it will go next along with a working prototype of the technology. The first project is on natural language generation algorithms (representing structured data as stories!), and will be available in early August.

Speaking of data providers, just five months after opening up its Data Store — which sells some of the big datasets its reporters produce for stories and projects — ProPublica says it’s generated “well over” $30,000 in new revenue. That figure comes from ProPublica president Richard Tofel in an interview with Southern Methodist University journalism professor Jake Batsell. Since they opened up shop in February, Tofel says more than 500 data sets have been downloaded.

And while new tools pop-up every week, some old ones get retired. Microsoft will be discontinuing two of its mapping products, MapPoint, and Streets & Trips. Both the products snagged their last updates, and are now headed towards their retirement. The demise of the said mapping services comes in favor of Microsoft’s premium mapping product, Bing Maps.

According to Kathleen Maher, the latest Autodesk acquisition, a New York design studio called The Living, “is one of those interesting tangential acquisitions that points to new directions”. Autodesk and The Living plan to build an Autodesk Studio to enable projects incorporating new materials and topologies through CAD. The idea is to use the power of the cloud along with the power of Autodesk’s money to experiment and deploy new design methodologies.

Yahoo acquired app analytics firm Flurry for an undisclosed sum. The move is aimed at boosting advertising revenue from smartphones, which could help offset the poor performance in display advertising revealed in a lacklustre second-quarter financial report.



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

The Global Oceans Commission report on the future of the oceans is a manifesto for survival of an incredible natural resource. Simon Rogers got to work on these visualizations with NY-based graphic designer Gavin Potenza and the creative team at Comms Inc in London. Here’s one of the spreads:

(image: Global Oceans Commission)


As Keir Clarke pointed out in this interview, one the most common mistakes being committed when handling maps is the lack of data normalization. This post by Robert Kosara reinforces that alert with some examples of this misleading practice.

Comparing numbers requires understanding, and controlling for, context. Just throwing around raw numbers often leads to wrong conclusions, or shows patterns that are already known


A guest post on James Davenport‘s If We Assume, from Meredith Rawls. This short writeup (originally from her blog) demonstrates some basic statistics, and how they might apply to a very real world example.

An article by Drew Skau, pointing out some of the common characteristics of bad infographics. Among the worst crimes against your readers – and your brand -, you have poor sourcing, incoherent narrative and inaccurate charts – although you’ll probably get featured on WTFViz if you really excel in any of these.

A shocking – or at least, disappointing – collection of terrible charts used by members of the United States Congress, compiled by William Gray (@FloorCharts). These examples fit perfectly on what Jon Schwabish said in this interview, about visual literacy.

Again from Drew Skau, this post actually complements his previous one about bad infographics. It provides a quick set of tips on how to avoid some of the most common mistakes that you see in poorly created visualizations.

In a section of the first chapter of Communicating Data with Tableau (O’Reilly, 2014), Ben Jones lays out six principles of communicating data. Now, he converted these six principles into a simple checklist that anyone can use to be reminded of all the important ingredients that go into a successful communication effort.

Partial screen capture of the Six Principles of Communicating Data Checklist
(Image: the Six Principles of Communicating Data Checklist, by Ben Jones)



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

OpenStreetMap is nearing its 10th anniversary. In this guest post, Ed Freyfogle, co-founder of Lokku (owners of OpenCage Data and investors in SplashMaps) and long-time OSM contributor, examines trends as well as challenges in the community.

A recent presentation by Ed Parsons, Geospatial Technologist at Google Research in London gave some pretty interesting statistics about the prevalence of Google Maps that might make some GPS companies a little nervous, as reported in this article by Liz Ellis. Here’s the video with Parson’s presentation:


This is the final installment of a series of posts criticizing (ok, making fun, really) the recent plague of “40 Maps That Will Explain Everything You Ever Needed to Know and Keep Your Breath Minty Fresh” articles.

The title says it all, but instead of picking up examples of bad maps, Nathan Yau actually created the illustrations, which sort of makes it even more “mind-blowing” – and perhaps even poster-worthy.

(Image: Nathan Yau)


James Fallows talks about two interactive maps Esri has recently produced that he thinks “are potential time-sinks of the instructive rather than of the “you’ll hate yourself when you spend half an hour this way” variety.” A “swipe map” that lets you compare recent rates of county-by-county population growth with the sources of that growth—or decline, and the amazing overlay of some 175,000 historic topographical maps, that we mentioned here a couple of weeks ago.

An interesting post by Francis Gagnon, about one of the classics of visualization, Minard’s representation of the Russian campaign of the French army in 1812. The article gathers a series of curiosities and factoids, and provides a good contextualization for those not yet familiar with the story behind it.

In this article, John Krygier shares the work and talks about the historical importance of Erwin Raisz, who produced three atlases in his lifetime, including the “Atlas of Global Geography” (Global Press Corp., 1944), the “Atlas de Cuba” (Harvard University Press, 1949) and the “Atlas of Florida” (University of Florida Press, 1964). Here you’ll see some of maps and diagrams present in the “Atlas de Cuba”, which seems to have had a relatively low print run, and therefore much harder to find nowadays.

(image: Geology of Cuba | “Atlas de Cuba” (1949) | Gerardo Canet & Erwin Raisz)



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

If you follow him on Twitter, you are aware that Alberto Cairo regularly complaints about some of the stories coming out websites such as FiveThirtyEight and, which have, overall, overpromised and underdelivered. In this article, he shares some of key reasons behind such constant failures and malpractices, and how these media organizations can improve the quality of its data journalism pieces.

Excellent overview of the current “Explanatory journalism” phenomena, by Ken Doctor, news industry analyst and the author of Newsonomics: Twelve New Trends That Will Shape the News You Get (St. Martin’s Press). He spoke recently with David Leonhardt, who heads The New York Times’ three-month-old The Upshot, about the whole movement, which this week got a new competitor with The Washington Post’s Storyline.

Kathleen Bartzen Culver makes the case for the importance of introducing data and visualization concepts and skills in journalism courses, and provides some very useful tips and ideas on how teachers can start applying those concepts in classrooms.

“Is data visualization worth paying for?” A provocative question as the opening sentence of Kaiser Fung‘s blog post, that compares two graphics with the same data and style, but one by researchers who presented their findings in PLOS, and the other by The New York Times’ graphic desk.

An in-depth general view of India’s data journalism landscape and challenges, by Priya Rajasekar, assistant professor and coordinator of the new media stream at the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai, India.

In a country so socially, economically, culturally and politically diverse, one would assume that statistics would be a crucial component of news as a way to ensure inclusive, truthful, and insightful coverage. Sadly, realities on the ground paint a different picture, and the media seem to be largely indifferent to the lure of digital data journalism that is charming global media houses.


To some reporters, data journalism might sound daunting – but it needn’t be. Paul McNally shows how just a handful of basic spreadsheet methods can help you start finding stories in data, whether that is crime stats, hospital admittance figures, property prices or school results

To close this section, a set of images that show how the Brazilian press reported the humiliating defeat against Germany, in the 2014 World Cup. After so many weeks, the subject is sort of exhausted, but we thought it would be nice a mention to this round up, collected from Newseum and posted on imgur by user “wazzzzah“.



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

A tale of two twenty-something computer whizzes, a mountain of money from Google, and one of the oldest, most vexing problems of all time, written by Miguel Helft. Meet the story of Nat Turner and Zach Weinberg, who’s company Flatiron Health hopes to collect and analyze mountains of clinical data to make inroads into one of medicine’s most complex, research-dependent, and difficult fields: cancer care. This story is from the August 11, 2014 issue of Fortune.

To do a better job of spotting unforeseen risks and side effects, the Food and Drug Administration is trying something new: It’s called Mini-Sentinel, and it’s a $116 million government project to actively go out and look for adverse events linked to marketed drugs. As NPR’s science correspondent Nell Greenfieldboyce tells, this pilot program is able to mine huge databases of medical records for signs that drugs may be linked to problems.

Talk by Rajesh Jayaprakash, at the Big Data Monetization in Telecoms Conference, organized by the IQPC, in Las Vegas, USA.


What does Ebay, Living Social and Adobe have in common? These companies, among countless others, have all experienced a significant data breach in the last year. And as Tamara Dull points out, while these breaches have cost millions of dollars to fix, they’ve also cost some executives their jobs. And that’s because, even though data security may sound like it’s IT’s responsibility, it’s not.

A presentation at the Deep Carbon Observatory Summer School 2014, Big Sky, MT, USA, by Xiaogang Ma, a Postdoctoral Research Associate, Tetherless World Constellation at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.


Guest Post from Mark Beyer about the role that big data technologies will play in the new world of information infrastructure and management.

Article by Evgeny Morozo, on the new data-based approach to governance – ‘algorithmic regulation’ -, defended by several tech experts. He quotes Tim O’Reilly as its most enthusiastic promoter, but the question behind this approach is obvious, and inevitable: “if technology provides the answers to society’s problems, what happens to governments?”

The folks at PyData are updating their YouTube channel with the presentations being held at PyData Berlim 2014. This talk provides an overview of the various data sources and data formats that are relevant for self tracking as well as strategies and examples for analyzing that data with Python.



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

To get an inside look at how Bloomberg’s Visual Data team work internally, how the visualizations they produce fit into the organization’s strategy and how they measure the performance of those visualizations, Drew Skau interviewed team leaders Timothy L. O’Brien, publisher of Bloomberg View, Lisa Strausfeld, co-head of Bloomberg Visual Data, and interactive designer Jeremy Diamond.

As we reported in this previous edition of Data Viz News, Alexander B. Howard recently produced a report on data journalism, “The Art and Science of Data-Driven Journalism” (pdf). Meagan Doll talked with Howard about the report and what educators should take away from it.



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

The slides presented by Lauren Klein at the Digital Humanities 2014 conference in Lausanne, Switzerland. Laura also shared the text of this talk here.


New list of articles, resources and other thought-provoking web content, compiled by Andy Kirk. This one refers to content published during the month of May, 2014.

The fourth episode of Alberto Cairo‘s own round up of recommended articles and reads, covering data journalism and other matters that Alberto is researching for his next book.

The second list we have for you today comes from Stephanie Evergreen, made “to point attention to the awesome women in data visualization, not just out there kicking ass, but going the extra distance to show others how its done.” We couldn’t agree more. If you notice someone missing in the list, just add a comment in the original post.

Lots of interesting reads (although many not data visualization related), in this selection by Merrily Chopp. Basically, it’s a list of of books and websites some of the PINTsters have checked out this year, and a few titles that they consider the best web development reading they’ve seen in 2014.

Michael Barry and Brian Card, the folks behind the interactive exploration of Boston’s subway system featured here a few weeks ago, just announced that the un-minified JavaScript and stylesheets that power are now available online. The sources are available under the MIT license from the github repository that powers the main website. Check out the readme in the repository for more information here.

Partial screen capture of interactive infographic Visualizing MBTA Data
(image: Michael Barry, Brian Card)



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

Data Viz Events


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.