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Data Viz News [54]

Articles, resources and the top news of the week for all of those interested in data visualization

May 10, 2014

Yesterday, we dedicated our weekly round up of interactive visualizations to the finalists of the Data Journalism Awards 2014, one f the most significant yearly competitions of its kind. We’ve pick this one as the opening story of this Data Viz News, and, while we’re at it, we’d like to take this moment also to congratulate all the finalists.

But there are many other interesting reads in today’s selection, like the new articles by Enrico Bertini, Stephen Few, Andy Kirk and Alberto Cairo, just to name a few. And we do have to mention in this introduction the OECD Better Life Index update, described in detail by Moritz Stefaner, the new additions to Periscopic’ gallery of projects, and the outstanding new visualization by Santiago Ortiz, commissioned by the Webby Awards for the 25th anniversary of the Web.

And if you go to the data journalism section, or the Cartography one, you’ll find that there’s a handful of recommended links as well there, that pair up perfectly with the infographic and interactive maps round ups. Interviews and the lists of resources, presentations and keynotes, together with the updated view of our Data Visualization Events Calendar close this week’s overview – but let us know if we skipped some other interesting link published in the past week.

Enjoy your weekend – and, hopefully, the following reads:


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

This year, the Data Journalism Awards will be awarding a €2,000 Prize to each of the seven categories’ winners, plus a special €2,000 prize for the juror’s choice. The eight winners will be presented during the DJA Ceremony at the GEN Summit 2014 – the organization’s annual event, that will host this year 500 Editor-in-Chiefs from all over the world in Barcelona from 11 to 13 June 2014. And in case you want to revisit the 2013 winners, we have them here.

From the 4th to the 6th of May 2014 Europe’s best newspaper makers met for the 15th European Newspaper Congress in Vienna. The concepts and ideas of the best daily and weekly publications in Europe were presented, for an audience of about 520 chief editors, media managers and designers, from 35 countries. Among the winners of the European Newspaper Awards, Germany’s “Welt am Sonntag” was chosen as the Weekly Newspaper of the Year, “de Volkskrant”, from The Netherlands, took home the National Newspaper of the Year award, and for best Local Newspaper of the Year, the “Hallingdólen”, from Norway.

The Los Angeles Times released a brand new website design, with new features and a more intuitive navigation. Among the features, you now have the Neighborhood pages, to find the news near you, an intuitive visual display that allows you to browse stories using photographs and graphics, and “sharelines” that sum up stories at a glance and let you share them through social media.

Partial screen capture of the New website
(image: Los Angeles Times)


From 19 May on, two infographics per day on current news topics will be shared by BBC on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest before they are collected in a weekly round up on the news outlet’s website. These daily infographics will be distributed on social media as part of continued experimentation into reaching audiences on new platforms in innovative ways. Amanda Farnsworth, editor of visual journalism at BBC News, announced the new project at the Reuters Institute conference on Big Data for Media.

For all Excel users out there: Jon Peltier‘s Chart Utility is now available for Mac, with all of the chart types and all of the other functions and features of the Windows version. The Mac utility has not been tested as extensively as the Windows version, so if you encounter any strange behavior, please report them to the Peltier Tech’s team.

New York City has recently released comprehensive traffic crash data, as reported here by Kate Hinds. The data went live in preparation for this year’s BigApps, a four-month long competition that leverages technology to solve civic problems.

Occasionally, we bring in this space hiring announcements, such as this one. Based in Berlin, Jan Marsch has joined the CartoDB team, where he’ll be working on their vector rendering engine. Jan is also the creator of the OSM Buildings, one of the few rendering engines for buildings purely based on HTML5 Canvas and OpenStreetMap.

In case you haven’t notice it, all this month Tableau’s blog has been focusing on the Quantified Self movement – a topic that is quite familiar for those that follow Visual Loop regularly, especially our Guest Post section. This month, the 2nd Iron Viz feeder contest will also take place, under the same topic, and the submissions page up should be up soon. The TED talk from Gary Wolf is highly recommended for those not familiar with the Quantified Self movement.



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

The Webby Awards has commissioned artists, film makers, and writers to help celebrate both the past and future of the Web on its 25th anniversary, and one of those guest contributors is no other than Santiago Ortiz. With this Visual Crawler, you can travel through time, back to first website ever published, and explore how the Internet grew from there or any other URL you pick – for example, below is the visualization of

Partial screen capture of the interactive infographic The First Web, and Beyond
(The First Web, and Beyond, by Santiago Ortiz)


The core idea of this post by Enrico Bertini is that we should move towards a concept of visualization as a two-way communication tool, in which the transfer of information and knowledge can flow between both man and machine. After getting some reactions to this idea, Enrico wrote a follow-up post, discussing if we should also evolve in the concept of “data visualization”, to something like “Data Interaction” –

This piece by Andy Kirk offers a brief overview of the content of his talk at OpenVisConf, that we mentioned here last week. Showing several examples in which the absence of data can be both revealing and insightful, Andy also discusses the challenge of representing zero, and how to use the property of emptiness.

Dino Citaro explores the vagueness of language as it relates to data, after a particular exchange of messages on Twitter, in which the subject was the volume of ‘data’ created in the past years.

The concept of data seems to be vague and subjective, and it tends to get squeezed into convenient shapes to enable marketing narratives.

A very complete post for those starting in the data visualization field, with some fundamental advises and plenty of examples. Ann K. Emery is a evaluator and data analyst in Washington, DC., and also speaks, teaches, and writes about data visualization.

What a great find by Erik Kwakkel, that ended up on Colossal and many other popular websites. Spanning nearly 800 completely handwritten (and painted) pages, Traité des couleurs servant à la peinture à l’eau by Dutch artist only known as A. Boogert, was probably the most comprehensive guide to paint and color of its time. The entire book is viewable in high resolution here, and you can read a description of it here.

Traité des couleurs servant à la peinture à l’eau (1692), by A. Boogert


Alberto Cairo shares a table and diagram from a 2011 article on how scientists can effectively convey the truth about climate change to the public, as well as other interesting reading references on scientific communication and reporting.

VisualCue was mentioned in Ben Kerschberg‘s article “Five Key Properties of Interactive Data Visualization“, published on Forbes’ website. Stephen Few criticizes the product’s flawed foundations, which very similar to the ones of another tool that he reviewed several years ago.

This is Andy Cotgreave‘s take on the whole “Storytelling & Visualization” discussion, that has been going on for a couple of months now within the data vis community. Andy disagrees with some of the views expressed in the latest Data Stories podcast, when Moritz Stefaner and Enrico Bertini talked with Alberto Cairo and Robert Kosara about this topic. By the way, Alberto has just wrote on his blog about this piece.

Mentioned in our latest issue oif Digital Cartography, the OECD Better Life Index remains as one of the most popular projects in Moritz Stefaners’s portfolio, and entering its fourth year it has undergone another update, as Moritz details in this post.

Partial screen capture of the interactive map Better Life Index
(image: OECD)


After having a tough time understanding the scale of a chart released by the New York Times, Kaiser Fung alerts for the dangers of “over-simplifying” a visualization. He noticed that a number of design elements were taken of the Times’ chart, something that ended up making tings harder for the reader.

Written by biological designer Christina Agapakis, this article describes a new project she’s been working on, together with Ellie Harmon, a PhD Candidate in the Department of Informatics at UC Irvine. Using samples of dirt collected throughout California, they analysed and visualized the biological data contained in those samples to get a snapshot of the microbial biogeography across the state. This project was supported by the University of California Institute for Research in the Arts.

The University of New Mexico has cataloged cutaway drawings of nuclear reactors from around the world, and Matt Shaw shares some of those colorful drawings. The perspectives, labels, and techniques vary, as does the period in which they were created.

Wylfa Magnox Nuclear Plant cutway



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

It’s not often that we see Simon Rogers on the DailyMail , but his interactive map showing meteors and asteroids discovered and the estimated date of landfall was featured as part of a story on the potential for an asteroid to wipe out life on Earth.

 Partial screen capture of the interactive map 1,000 years of Meteors in 30 seconds
Interactive map “1,000 years of Meteors in 30 seconds”, by Simon Rogers


Kaiser Fung recently came across – and praises – a set of maps based on data from the Harvard Dialect Survey, in which the authors examine regional dialect variation in the continental United States. Fung compares these maps to a previous set he criticized back in 2009, that depicted the same data.

In this latest post of his “remaking visualizations” series, Andy Kriebel picked an interactive map that “plots global outbreaks of diseases that are easily preventable by inexpensive and effective vaccinations.” This project is maintained by the Council on Foreign Relations, sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but it suffers from several basic flaws, leading Andy to create an improved version, using, of course, Tableau Public for the job.

One of the interactive maps we included in the latest Digital Cartography has been having some media attention, but in this post Kenneth Field explains why the hype around Isoscope, as a striking new way to visualize mobility, has been exaggerated.

We are now entering the #WTFMap section of this selection, so consider yourself warned. This first case comes from Jon Schwabish, talking about an article from October 2013, where the authors describe a new visualization technique they call “Ring Maps”, a way of pairing geography and time into the same chart. Not the best choice for this, as Jon points out.

And for more examples of poorly made maps, here’s Mike Nudelman and Christina Sterbenz‘ article. Some of these are well-known, for the attention they received in social media channels such as Twitter, and others we’ve just seen them here for the first time. We wish we didn’t.



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

Useful list of 10 concepts you’re likely to come across when you start learning code, brilliantly explained by Paul Bradshaw. A must read for all of those who are planning to develop some programming skills.

La Nacion Data project leader Angelica Peralta Ramos shared her tips for data journalism in ‘hostile political environments’ at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia. Alastair Reid summarizes this presentation.

An article by Peter Verweij, pointing out how and why trained data journalists can use R as an alternative to the wide-spread Microsoft Excel. He also leaves an (obvious but necessary) alert:

R does not teach you how to do statistics. It applies statistics to your data. Using R presupposes some statistical knowledge on how to an analysis and what to calculate. But that is the same in Excel.


An MA Interactive Journalism student at City University, Tom Bayley shares in this article his experience of working with David Ottewell in Trinity Mirror’s data unit. He describes some of activities he had to handle during that week.

Eva Constantaras is the Internews Data Journalism Advisor in Kenya and a Google Data Journalism Scholar, and in this post she talks about the first-ever Internews data journalism workshop held in Afghanistan. According to her, “Afghan journalists immediately saw the potential of data journalism to combat corruption, and wanted to jump right into ambitious investigative topics such as tracking foreign aid budgets and political and business interests in the mining sector”.

With a title like this, you know that something interesting is coming our way. Science fiction writer and blogger Jamie Todd Rubin shows how data journalism is far from being something new, and how similar some of Isaac Asimov’s essays he wrote for F&SF from 1958 – 1992 are to what has being done in sites like FiveThirtyEight

Reading an Asimov essay like “The Height of Up” I could almost see a similar (modern?) version written by a FiveThirtyEight staffer, wondering what the hottest temperature in the universe might be. There would be fancier visualizations, but the core data analysis and clear, colloquial exposition would be at its center.


One more video out International Journalism Festival YouTube Channel, in addition to the ones we featured last week.



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

Google Ventures has made its largest medical software investment yet, providing the bulk of a $130 million financing for Flatiron Health Inc., which aggregates cancer-patient data from a wide variety of sources to help doctors make treatment decisions. As Timothy Hay reports, “First Round Capital, Laboratory Corporation of America and angel investors also contributed to the Series B financing, which will partially be used to acquire electronic medical records company Altos Solutions Inc.“.

Recently, the White House released its report on big data and its privacy implications, the result of a 90-day study commissioned by President Obama during his January 17 speech on NSA surveillance reforms. After reading the document, Jeremy Gillula, Kurt Opsahl and Rainey Reitman share their thoughts on what they liked, what they didn’t, and what they thought was missing.

Health care, crime, smart homes, education, law enforcement, employment – these are all areas in which big data has promised to deliver miracles. But are the tradeoffs of privacy for convenience something we really want? Article by Sydney Brownstone, showing three ways in which big data practices might one day affect you.

The National Geographic’s Innovators Project is a series of profiles on people who are transforming their fields by creating, educating, provoking, and delighting. Here’s the latest one, about Jeff Jonas, a well-known technologist, currently IBM Fellow and Chief Scientist, Context Computing.

HP Software evangelist and VP of Strategic Marketing, Paul Muller, sits down with Data Visualization expert, Kim Arcand from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Center to discuss the similar challenges and benefits of conveying complex data sets in a way that is understandable to all audiences.



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

Julie Gould caught up with Andy Kirk at the British Library during one of his workshops for the Beautiful Science event, and recorded this quick audio interview, for the Nature Jobs podcast.

An interview/profile with Vienna-based information and graphic designer Michael Paukner, who’s portfolio we had the chance to feature, back in 2013.

In the first of two interviews from Interhacktives, Anthony Organ spoke with Ri Liu from Pitch Interactive. Ri recently created We Can Do Better, which is a visualization of gender disparity in engineering teams in the tech industry, that we also featured here.

Carl Bialik is a writer for FiveThirtyEight, having recently moved from the Wall Street Journal where he started The Numbers Guy column. Sarah Spickernell spoke with him, about the ups, downs and difficulties of being a data journalist, as well as what he thinks are the most important traits for being successful in the field.

Data journalism is increasingly popular in the UK, and Ampp3d and Conrad Quilty-Harper are right at the forefront of it. CJR spoke to Conrad Quilty-Harper about Ampp3d’s balance between serious and irreverent content, and about making data journalism fun.



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

A fun one to start this section. The enormous set of charts displaying “spurious correlations” – when two things appear related, but in reality are not – , created by Tyler Vigen has been gaining some well deserved visibility (HT Robert Kosara on Twitter).

One of the “Spurious Correlations” charts, by Tyler Vigen


For those who didn’t manage to attend this year’s OpenVis Conference, Jen Christiansen‘s tweets sure helped to keep up with stream of insights and ideas coming out of the event. Now, Jen has created this Storify with many of those tweets.

In parallel to her work at the European Journalism Centre, for the past couple of years Liliana Bounegru has been working on and off on a research project that examines sourcing and knowledge production practices in data journalism and how these might be challenging traditional journalism epistemologies. Here is a list of academic papers about data journalism and computational journalism that she collected during her work so far.

A recent presentation by Paul Bradshaw, focused on scrapping techniques for data journalists.


A detailed tutorial by Mike Bostock, teaching how to make a bubble map of population by U.S. county in D3. This post led to another interesting article, by Kenneth Field, titled Hubble bubble, transparency and trouble, alerting for the confusions that the use of this type of transparency in maps can cause.

A long list of data visualization tools, articles, blogs and books that could perhaps be a bit more organized, maybe by grouping them into categories. Even so, lots of good stuff here.

The video of the full presentation by John Emerson, Associate Professor of Statistics, Yale University, at the Data Visualization New York Meetup event, in the end of April



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

Data Viz Calendar


Time to close this edition of 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, 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.