Archive for January, 2007

Data and Dogma

January 30, 2007

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A friend of mine, who’s been putting out a terrific email list to his friends and associates, recently wrote the following:

…it does not take a peer reviewed scientific study to realize that the earth’s climate is experiencing a change. All you have to do is open your eyes and see what is happening in the environment around us. Or read the news…What amazes me is that a ninety year old man with a high school education can figure it out while so many others are still trying to rationalize the changes we are experiencing (“The data in inconclusive” blah blah blah). We can debate the magnitude of the changes and what is causing them but the fact is the climate is changing.

Here is my response:

Dear Friend,

Regarding global warming, I agree with you and believe that the data is rarely conclusive, but I also believe that the data is important to gaining lasting consensus about complicated and challenging topics.

In the end, advocacy is vital to solving problems like global warming, but advocacy without data is just dogma. The lack of conclusive data doesn’t mean we don’t need data; it just means we need the data AND we need advocacy; it means the problem on table is complicated and challenging. Charter schools, budget deficits, crime, lack of health care, obesity….easy answers are no where to be found, but there are still plenty of intelligent people on various sides of each of those issues…and the advocates on every side of each of these issues continue to require data.

More amazing to me, of late, are the holocaust deniers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocaust_denial). This is not a complicated problem and yet some people are making a claim that is patently false. How can you respond to them? I say you respond strongly with the data. From a 2005 bbc article:

…the eminent British historian Sir Martin Gilbert believes the tireless gathering of facts about the Holocaust will ultimately consign the deniers to history…More recently, Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah [Holocaust] Visual History Foundation (VHF) has recorded more than 50,000 videotaped interviews with Holocaust survivors and witnesses. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4436275.stm

Gathering the facts is what makes those without the facts unable to carry their position.

I know many intelligent people who believe that global warming is happening, but they don’t believe that man is causing the change and they also don’t think the temperature change is a problem. To convince these people or to convince society as a whole, we have to respond with data and with advocacy.

Best regards,

Tom

O’Reilly

January 26, 2007

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Tim O’Reilly made a post two days ago about Many Eyes. His posting comments included the following:

IBM today announced Many Eyes, a site for sharing and commenting on visualizations. Martin Wattenberg, who developed the original version of the treemap we use for our book market visualizations as well as the awesome baby name voyager, and Fernanda Viegas, who worked with him on the equally awesome history flow visualizations of Wikipedia, are the geniuses behind this project.

As with swivel, users can upload any data set, but the tools for visualizing and graphing the data are much richer. The visualization options include US and World maps, line graphs, stack graphs, bar charts, block histograms, bubble diagrams, scatter plots, network diagrams, pie charts, and treemaps. The site isn’t yet live, but should be very shortly. Meanwhile, you can get a good sense of the types of graphs available by checking out the visualization gallery.

Personally, I’d love to see swivel and manyeyes working together, as swivel already has some great data sets, but has only a limited number of graphing tools. But that’s an exercise for the future. For now, data wonks can just rejoice that both sites exist, and should start exploring, and as Martin says, conversing about what they find. I love both of these sites.

I posted the following comment in response to his posting:

Tim,

Many Eyes is definitely an amazing site in terms of visualization. I did want to alert you to another site, Data360, which was launched in October of 2006 and is a collaborative trend tracking website, offering both public and private platforms where users can track and collaborate on data. See http://www.data360.org. We have been compared to Swivel, although I would say where they are more playful, we are more serious. We know our site can appear complicated and we are working on simplifying it. We think Data360 offers a utilitarian functionality for anyone wanting to present a story involving numerous graphs. Data360 also has a lot of really interesting information already on the site. We have a capability to do specific calculations between datasets, as well as to calculate growth rates between data points of the same time-series dataset. Graphs can be specified and fine tuned along numerous attributes, such as font size of axes, legends and titles. We also offer rich presentation capabilities, including pdf report generation, with user uploaded pdfs, as well as 1 to 6 graphs on the same page. We are just rolling out a new functionality we call ADF, for automatic data feed, which will allow users to have data sets from certain sources to automatically be updated – forever. Our team is comprised of former Chief Financial Officers who have been thinking about data reporting for years; we wanted to build a product that would let anyone track and repeatedly report, in a compelling manner, on any subject of interest to them.

We would be grateful for your review of our site.

Thanks,

Tom Paper

World Economic Forum

January 24, 2007

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I would highly recommend checking out the World Economic Forum website (http://www.weforum.org/en/index.htm). They have “Briefing Essays” on various topics, all from public sources and compiled and published by Price Waterhouse. I would guess that these are the same briefings that Bill Gates, George Soros, Richard Branson and other heavy-hitters are reading prior to (or during) the sessions.

To see the list of briefings, goto:

http://www.weforum.org/en/events/AnnualMeeting2007/essays/index.htm

To download all the briefings, goto:

http://www.knowledgeconcierge.com/PDFs/Davos2007/AllEssays.pdf

Many Eyes

January 24, 2007

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IBM came out with a new site called Many Eyes and it is really cool. The visualizations are quite impressive and the charts are very interactive. There are also numerous interesting chart styles.

I did not notice what features they have for updating datasets once you have uploaded information onto the site. I also could not tell to what degree it allows for collaboration between datasets posted by different individuals. Automatic updating and collaboration between datasets are two features (with patent pending) on data360. Another unique feature of data360 is its custom reporting capability, so that you can combine graphs into a pdf report.

Bottom line is that IBM’s graphs are totally cool and visually very appealing. It is very interesting and worth checking out.

http://services.alphaworks.ibm.com/manyeyes/app

Minimum Wage Increase

January 11, 2007

The change in the federal minimum wage is in the news. It’s interesting to note that the proposed change (increase to from $5.15 to $6.55 in 2007 and then to $7.25 in 2008), when viewed on a CPI adjusted basis, still falls short of the CPI adjusted levels that the minimum wage was for every year between 1955 and 1982. The blue line below is the actual minimum wage, including the projections for the 2007 and 2008 increases. The red line is those same values, when adjusted for the Consumer Price Index using 2005 as the base year. See graph below or click here to the Data360 site to see the calculations.


The SPA 100

January 11, 2007

SPA100 SNAP

We received a nice promotion today by being listed as one of 100 sites that are using SNAP Previews. We’re in good company.

Our view of SNAP previews is that they’re useful if you make sure they are only present on the links you choose. Installing SNAP over every link will make readers angry!

http://blog.snap.com/

http://www.snap.com

Review of Data360

January 2, 2007

Perceptual EdgeWe received a nice review today from Stephen Few, the Founder and Principal of Perceptual Edge, an independent consultancy that specializes in the application of data visualization to business intelligence. He is also the author of Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten and Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Visual Communication of Data, and teaches in the MBA program at the University of California, Berkeley. See www.perceptualedge.com and http://www.haas.berkeley.edu/faculty/few.html

Stephen’s post regarding Data360 can be found at http://perceptualedge.com/blog/?p=67 and I’ve also published his comments below:

Data360 — Another new venue for sharing dat

Not long ago I wrote about a new Web site called Swivel, which serves as a venue for posting, exchanging, and exploring data. Although I was critical of its data visualization implementation and concerned that it might encourage people to make absurd and misleading comparisons between variables, I was encouraged that such a venue for data had been created and hopeful that it would improve over time. Shortly after writing about it, I received an email from the creator of another Web site with similar intentions named Data360. Its creator, Tom Paper, invited me to take a look at Data360 and comment on it. In his email, Tom described his site as a place where “people can find, present and share data. We’ve been calling it a ‘collaborative trend tracking website’ and a ‘data dashboard for a democratic society.’” Tom pointed out ways that, despite many similarities, Data360 differs from Swivel:

Both products do similar things, although I would say that where Swivel is more playful, Data360 is more serious. Our view is that it’s too easy for charts to lie; a well-done chart tells a story and is the result of intelligent and, sometimes, creative analysis.

Data360’s target audience is businesses, academics, non-profits and governmental organizations (”BANG”), while Swivel’s appears to be more individuals (”Youtube for Data”).

On the surface, at least, Tom’s description of how the two sites differ seems fair. The folks at Swivel probably characterize their intentions differently, but even if they are trying to do precisely what Tom has described, the playful vs. serious goals of these sites are both worthwhile, as long as they serve these audiences well and discourage them from adding to the confusion and misrepresentation of the facts that already plagues the Web.

Both sites must improve the design and functionality of their graphs to provide an engaging venue for data presentation and exploration. Data360 suffers from fewer and less glaring problems than those that I found at Swivel, but this is partly due to the fact that its graphs do less. I want to encourage those of you who take data visualization seriously and have useful insights to get in touch with Data360 and Swivel to offer your suggestions and encouragement. With the right improvements, both sites could enrich the world by providing useful venues for presenting and exploration important data.

Steve

January 1st, 2007