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Democratizing the tools of visualization? But watch out for the data-as-chartjunk phenomenon

- August 31, 2008

Lee points me to this news article by Anne Eisenberg about the website Many Eyes, which allows people to upload data and visualize it in cool ways. A great idea, but the example used to illustrate the article is just horrible:

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It’s a classic example of a graph that looks cool but is just confusing. The data are presented in two dimensions, but the two dimensions don’t mean anything, there are lots of colors with no apparent rhyme or reason, and tons of cool techy-looking details that don’t do anything for me. I’d prefer some bar graphs or (if people can handle it) line plots. It was probably a bad idea that this tool was presented in a newspaper column entitled “Novelties.” I’d rather see graphics be in a column called “Essentials.”

But, hey, everything’s gotta start somewhere. At some point, maybe the fad of cool-looking graphs will go away, and people can settle down to something serious.

P.S. I have no problem with cool–for example, see here for a wonderful applet on the New York Times website–but I think graphmakers have to avoid the data-as-chartjunk phenomenon, in which real data are presented but in a way that makes little sense.