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Data Viz News [52]

Product announcements, interviews and all the other news related to data visualization

April 26, 2014

A busy week that culminated with what seems to have been one of the best data visualization events of the year so far. We weren’t able to attend OpenVis Conference, but the “avalanche” of tweets (#openvisconf) praising the talks and the event leave no doubts that it stands now as one of major conferences in the data visualization calendar.

But things were happening since the beginning of the week, with the launch of The Upshot by The New York Times, the third data-driven journalism news portal launched in the past few weeks. The so-called “Nate Silver’s replacement” had a much better start than Vox and FiveThirtyEight, and seems to be the one that is managing to not only attend and fulfill expectations, but even surpass them.

Also, it was a week with several interesting product releases and business announcements, new data visualization challenges and career moves, not to mention the fresh interviews, articles and lists of resources collected from all over the Internet. A lot of content ahead!

Hope you enjoy this week’s recommended links:


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

After Vox and FiveThirtyEight, here’s the third much-expected data journalism medium. And contrarily to the previous ones, The Upshot has been receiving a fair amount of positive comments and reviews – much thanks to the commitment that The New York Times’ award winning graphics desk. Great job with the graphics and visualizations, especially with the Baseball Maps released a couple of days ago. Also, don’t miss Kevin Quealy‘s post with the roster of runners-up for the website’s name.

Partial screen capture of the interactive Baseball Maps
(A Map of Baseball Nation, by Tom Giratikanon, Josh Katz, David Leonhardt, Kevin Quealy | The New York Times)


Facebook and the social media news agency Storyful announced this week the launch of FB Newswire, a site that aims to “make it easier for journalists and newsrooms to find, share and embed newsworthy content from Facebook in the media they produce.” Storyful will provide verified content on the service.

And still on Facebook: The company has acquired the motion tracking app for Android and iPhone ‘Moves,‘, the startup announced via a blog post. Move’ founders say that the crew will join Facebook’s team to “work on building and improving their products and services” and that the Moves app will continue to operate on its own as a standalone experience. No price was disclosed for the acquisition.

Eight international journalists have been awarded John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships to pursue proposals for journalism innovation at Stanford during the 2014-15 academic year. The list of Fellows includes our good friend Mariana Santos, who’s in a relentless mission to increase the number of women in Latin American newsrooms with strong technology, data journalism and entrepreneurial skills. Congratulations to all!

After doing an amazing job in the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, Jonathan Schwabish will join the Urban Institute on May 7 as a senior researcher and data visualization expert. “There are still great strides to be made in translating complex information so it is meaningful to more people,” Jon said. “My role at the Urban Institute will create new opportunities for experimentation and innovation in data visualization—efforts that should contribute to better policy decisions.”

Datameer’s latest update has an interesting twist, literally. As you can see by the GIF below, as you work with data in Datameer’s analytics tool, when you click a button, the screen turns revealing a visualization of the data on-screen in real time. This new “flip side” view to spreadsheet UI provides visual insights at every step of analysis.

Datameer dashboard


Great to see the latest project from our friends – and supporters – at O EcoLab going live. Yby is a new software focused on facilitating organizations to create their own crowd-sourcing platforms. Basically, it’s a collaborative mapping platform that allows users to draw points, polygons and areas, and associate media content to them. All source-code is open-source and available on GitHub, and the team is eager for feedback, via the issues section, so try it out.

Another new tool launched this week comes from The New York Times Labs. “Vellum was built as a quick experiment, but as we and other groups within The New York Times have been using it over the past few months, it has proven to be an invaluable tool for using Twitter as a content discovery interface.”, explains Alexis Lloyd in this blog post . The service acts as a reading list for your Twitter feed, finding all the links that are being shared by those you follow on Twitter and displaying them each with their full titles and descriptions. Awesome.

Partial screen capture of the Vellum web app
(image: Vellum | NYT Labs)


The first Tow Research conference, Quantifying Journalism: Metrics, Data and Computation, on May 30, 2014 will reflect on a big year in data journalism. Quantifying Journalism: Data, Metrics, and Computation will bring together academics, practitioners and technologists to explore critical questions at the heart of the data journalism conversation. The conference is free and open to all; however, space is limited and advance registration is essential.

Esri Story Maps provides a number of easy to use templates that allow you to combine map and satellite views with multimedia and other interactive features to create an interactive mapped presentation. Now, Story Map users can also enter the Esri Storytelling with Maps Contest. Submissions can be made until June 2, 2014.

The goal of the NYS Health Innovation Challenge is to create technology-driven solutions that enable consumers, employers, public health experts, communities and purchasers to explore quality, charges and costs data for medical procedures provided by NYS inpatient hospital facilities. The submission deadline is July 24, 2014, and you can read all the details here.

Over the next few days the new look Google Maps is rolling out a new feature to all users, which will allow you to travel back in time with Street View, as Keir Clarke explains in this post. Using this new feature you will be able to view buildings as they grow or visit locations which have recently been hit by natural disasters and view before and after Street View images from the selected location.


IBM announced last Thursday an overall expansion of its U.S. Federal Healthcare Practice aimed at putting big data capabilities in the realm of clinical care. Also, IBM made its Advanced Care Insights available to health care providers as a means to collect clinical, social and behavioral data.

An exciting one for digital map makers, and especially for CartoDB users. The company announced that it’s now possible to use NASA’s Earth Observations Satellites imagery as baselines for visualizations. One of the most amazing opportunities these Earth Observations Satellites brings is the ability to display our own data or annotations with images from a particular date.

This makes it perfect for visual storytelling and Earth analysis: scientists, journalists, and storytellers around the world can add a layer of extremely valuable data to their visualizations, and mix it with their own data or any other available open data to create insightful maps.



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

The first blog post of many surely to come, about OpensVis Conference. The event was highly praised on Twitter, like we said in the introduction, and in this article Ben Chartoff shares his thoughts on what he calls the best conference he ever attended.

Mark Barratt highlights the main talks and trends he took out from Information Design Conference 2014, held at RIBA in London on 7 and 8 April. The first IDC event happened 30 years ago, and Mark also brings that comparison to his post, since he was present in both occasions.

Conceived and created by Roundhouse in collaboration with Universal Everything, this art installation in San Francisco had the participation of Simon Rogers. It’s “an incredibly sophisticated visualization, in what is one of only a handful of mirrored infinity rooms ever created, of some simple data: showing the life of the quarter coin”. Unfortunately, it was only temporary, but we can get a sense of it by the photos Simon shared in this post.

Six months after his son was born, Nathan Yau shares a set of graphics that illustrate the impact of fatherhood in his life. Nathan’s dissertation was about personal data collection, so he had a lot to work with, going back to 2008.

After a year of publishing data visualizations on Virostatiq, Marko Plahuta decided to write this post about the best publishing practices and experiences he had so far. It includes a nice mention to us,so thanks for that!

Danish writer Mikael Wulff and cartoon artist Anders Morgenthaler – the creative duo known as Wumo – have created Truth Facts, a brilliant series of graphs that illustrate some of the basic painful truths of everyday life in the Western world. With great humor and elegant designs, it’s no wonder that the set of illustrated facts made its rounds in the Internet.

(image: Truth Facts | Mikael Wulff and Anders Morgenthaler)



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

So, to keep up with the good mood, here’s another hilarious post, this one by Mallory Ortberg. The dialogue between two monks about how to make a world map is accompanied by several well-known vintage examples, and it will most certainly leave you with a smile. Also, check out Two Monks Invent Renaissance Art.

The Environment and Health Atlas for England and Wales provides maps – including interactive ones -of the geographical variations for a range of health conditions and environmental agents at a small-area scale (census wards). The maps have been developed as a resource for those working in public health and public health policy and for the general public to better understand the geographic distribution of environmental factors and disease.

Partial screen capture of the interactive Environment and Health Atlas for England and Wales
(The Environment and Health Atlas for England and Wales | Small Area Health Statistics Unit)


One of the easiest ways to create a sophisticated mapped visualization of data is to use Google Fusion Tables, and Keir Clarke shares here some of tools/templates available out there to quickly make a Google Map from a Fusion Table.

The folks at Ordnance Survey just added an updated library of cartographic resources and a media library of news, forums, blogs and articles. These now sit alongside their cartographic design principles, map showcase, stylesheets, thematic data sources, blog posts and the OS OpenData Award to form a set of resources that will certainly help anyone during the map-making process.

One of the most praised climate change visualizations created in the past weeks was Enigma’s Climate Change Map, that we’ve mention here. Brian Abelson gives us a detailed inside look at how the visualization was developed, and why it’s such an important topic to tackle.

Partial screen capture of the interactive map U.S. Daily Temperature Anomalies 1964-2013
(image: Enigma Labs)



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

We’ve mention this article by Gert K Nielsen in the latest issue of This is Visual Journalism, published a couple of days ago.It’s a detailed list of reasons against this year’s Malofiej ‘Peter Sullivan Award’ for printed graphics winning piece, the New York Times’ “State gun laws enacted in Year since Newtown”. See it below, in case you missed it on our list of Malofiej 22 awarded infographics.

(image: The New York Times)


As The Upshot went live, the barrage of articles around the “new data journalism sites trend” continued, now reaching a new height with the inevitable comparisons between The New York Times Nate Silver’s replacement – although we doubt if there’s anyone who sees it that way now – , and FiverForthyEight and Vox. This post by James Ball is arguably one of the best on this topic, but you should also check out Alberto Cairo‘s considerations about empowering infographics and visualization desks, Simon Roger‘s plea for less talk about data journalism and more actual data, and Mathew Ingram‘s hands-on review of explanatory journalism.

An inspiring tale by visual journalist Sarah Slobin , showing that sometimes graphics can actually get in the way of telling an important story, even if there’s lots of data available.

We need to remember that behind the data are stories and inside those stories are people and those people are connected to the statistics in a way that we never will be, regardless of how badass we are with our tools, how rockstar-smart our code is, or how facile we are in manipulating the information.


This is another article that has already been mentioned this week, here on Visual Loop. Megan Albon brought together some examples of how data visualization has been used by news outlets and non-profit organizations to tell the stories behind climate change data, and delivers a general overview of the state of data journalism initiatives around this topic.

A quick look at what the ChicasPoderosas event in Miami was like, by journalist Emma Carew Grovum. This was the first time Chicas held a workshop in the U.S., with previous events having been based in Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica. The events bring female journalists from Latin America together for an intense weekend of learning, empowerment and hacking/making.

Eric Newton is senior adviser to the president at the Knight Foundation, and shares in this article a set of websites and services journalists are using to do accountability journalism. In the end, he launches the idea of creating “some kind of journalistic version of Consumer Reports, which would test and rate them in an organized way and let everyone know what’s taking off”.



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

With a distinct panel of speakers, this session of the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship explores how to maximize the “good” promise of the data revolution for social change while managing its potential downsides.


After publishing his first article at FiveThirtyEight, on whether we can trust airfare prediction models, Kaiser Fung provides a bit more background on the topic, as well as the approach he took to conduct that evaluation.

Following the success of SelfieCity, Lev Manovich will have the opportunity to continue his social media data analysis, this time with a project that has recently been awarded one of the six Twitter #DataGrants. The project will tackle a simple question: Is it possible to measure the overall happiness of metropolitan areas based on the study of images shared on Twitter? The team includes, besides Manovich, Mehrdad Yazdani, Nadav Hochman and Jay Chow.

An article by Michael Dixon, General Manager of Smarter Cities, IBM, showcasing couple of examples of the use of big data technology and analytics by public and private organizations in Miami.

In this issue of The Economist Explains series, an overview of the recent criticism around the unfulfilled promises of big data.

Behind the big data backlash is the classic hype cycle, in which a technology’s early proponents make overly grandiose claims, people sling arrows when those promises fall flat, but the technology eventually transforms the world, though not necessarily in ways the pundits expected.



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

Alexander Howard spoke recently with Scott Klein, assistant managing editor at ProPublica, about what the current state of the data journalism world. Alberto Cairo also wrote about this interview here.

The author of The Best American Infographics, 2013, Gareth Cook, talked with Andrea Ovans about what makes an infographic particularly persuasive.

Chris Hamby of The Center for Public Integrity, Washington, D.C., is one of the Pulitzer award winners this year, for Investigative Reporting. In this interview he explains the role data journalism had in his series of reports on how some lawyers and doctors rigged a system to deny benefits to coal miners stricken with black lung disease, resulting in remedial legislative efforts.



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

This is a blog post that Matt Francis, a Senior Software Developer at Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, wrote based on a presentation he previously published. These tips are mainly orientated for new users of Tableau, but experienced ones will probably find some of them useful too.

A round up with lots of links and tweets about a wide range of topics, curated by Arthur Charpentier. Most of the suggested reads relate to big data, but you’ll find a bit of everything here.

Another list of recommendations, but this one with free downloadable ebooks about Data Mining and Data Analysis. Curated by Alex Ivanovs, these books intend to explain the two concepts in a simple way, helping readers to better judge how to use them in working projects.

Like we mentioned before, Facebook has recently bought Moves, a service that tracks your daily activity, including your location. In this tutorial, you will learn how much location info Moves has about you: just upload your Moves data to CartoDB and visualize it!

A quick step-by-step guide by Basile Simon, on how to use DataMaps, a light JS library to create “customizable SVG map visualizations for the web in a single Javascript file using D3.js”.

And now that we’re at it, more mapping tutorials, this time from the folks at Nat Geo Education Blog. They share some user-generated tutorials for MapMaker Interactive. The MapMaker Interactive is a online mapping tool that allows students (or for that matter, anyone!) to explore the world using map themes, data and tools.

After a complaint on Twitter about one of FiveThirtyEight‘s charts that don’t start the vertical axis at zero, Kaiser Fung posted this well-explained article clarifying any confusions around the “start-at-zero” rule.

Posted also on HelpMeViz, this article by Jon Schwabish looks for alternative – and better – ways to displaying the data in a chart released recently in Chris Cillizza’s Washington Post article, about changes in President Obama’s approval ratings.

In this video-tutorial, Jewel Lowree from Tableau teams up with to show you how to make a data visualization with Tableau using a radio playlists structured into web data.



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. 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.


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