October 09, 2008

Love numbers? Obsessed by the election? If so…

…you’ll love fivethirtyeight.com, which is one of the best blogs to emerge about the 2008 presidential election. The name comes from the number of delegate votes up for grabs in the election, and the site takes the daily feeds of national and statewide polls and synthesizes them to create a running set of predictions about the likely outcome of the election, which (as of today, 10/9/08) looks like this:

The site’s founder, Nate Silver, has been careful to try to build a model which takes into account the historical accuracy of the various polls that he draws from, as well as a number of other factors such as state demographics, to provide a view which is as likely to be accurate as anything you’ll encounter from the likes of Gallup or CNN.

I love the site because it’s a great demonstration of what can be done with a computer, some publicly available data, and a commitment to citizen journalism. And it seems I’m not the only one – having only started seven months ago, the site pulled in nearly 700,000 visits yesterday, and has earned Nate a certain degree of fame, culminating with an appearance this week on the Colbert Report:

And FiveThirtyEight.com has even garnered the praise of the folks at JunkCharts.com for the clarity of its charts – an achievement perhaps even more impressive than appearing on the Comedy Channel.

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December 11, 2006

Swivel - the YouTube of data?

Should have blogged about this last week, but other demands on my time prevailed.

There's an article on TechCrunch (brought to my attention by my colleague Justin) about the launch of Swivel, whose founders Dmitry Dimov and Brian Mulloy describe as the "YouTube of data". What they mean by this is that they've created a place where users can upload interesting data sets and then plot them against other data sets from other users to look for correlations, such as the interesting one below:


Unfortunately I don't have much particularly interesting data to upload (and the data that I do have that is interesting is confidential), so I wasn't able to try this with some of my own data. Apparently when the site launches, you will be able to upload data and keep it private - though I don't know how many people will be happy to trust their precious data to a relatively unknown third party (not to mention the legal aspects).

If Swivel can overcome this obstacle, however (and they need to - charging for private data is their main revenue source, apparently), then they could be onto something. They're building out significant data center capability to perform correlations behind the scenes and suggest data sets that you might want to compare. But it will be interesting to see whether the correlations they come up with are anything more than just of the 'happy coincidence' variety (for example, the rising plot of oil prices in the chart above could appear to correlate nicely with the usage of World of Warcraft, if you're careful to pick the right range, etc). So perhaps Swivel should have a little tutorial on how correlation does not imply causation on their home page.

The site's other challenge is the cleanliness of the data - even when trying to compare data that was date-based, the site choked several times (doubtless these are problems that the team is working out), but there is a larger issue of 'standardization' of axes or segments. Date is (relatively) easy - you can make some assumptions about the date range that a particular data point relates to - but other ranges/segments are harder, such as:

  • Country (problems with old vs new names, regions, etc)
  • Age (lots of data is grouped into age ranges, e.g. 16-24, 25-34, but these are not consistent)
  • Income (same problem as above, plus currency fluctuations thrown into the mix)

And that's just the axes/segments for humans - other entities like companies have their own characteristics which are not measured in a standard way, especially not internationally.

It'll be interesting to come back to Swivel in a few months when there's some more data in there (and when they have their private data service up and running). I wish them well.

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November 23, 2006

Break (or feed) the Technorati ranking crack habit

Like everyone else who runs a blog, checking my Technorati ranking has become a daily ritual. But one of the things Technorati doesn't do is give you a history of your site's rank. I'm not quite (not quite) sad enough to write the ranking values down and plot them myself over time, but now I don't even have to. Blotter offers a nifty little chart service which tracks your Technorati links and ranking over time:

So now you can see that my site is languishing in the 200,000s. So still a little way to go before I overtake Scott Adams; but better than the 1,000,000+ ranking I had only a few months ago! And, of course, if you want to see my ranking go up, you can always link to my site...

The chart builds over time - come back and look at this post in a month's time and you should see how my ranking is soaring skywards over that period. There's also a version on my About page.

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November 17, 2006

Election night visualization

A little after the fact (this post, that is, not his), this, but I liked Steve Krause's post on the different charts & visualizations that the various news outlet websites used during election night here in the US (election night rather passed me by, unfortunately, as I was still staggering about in a jet-lagged hazed wondering which suitcase contained my underpants). Steve wisely points out that many of the visuals, whilst attempting to deliver an 'at-a-glance' picture of the gains & losses on the night, ended up being confusing by trying to incorporate too much information, or presenting things in the wrong way.

The winner, in Steve's view? ABC's graphic (above). No charts, no dials, no elephants, no donkeys. Just a big pair of numbers. Something to learn from, I think.

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October 16, 2006

Is this the worst dashboard IN THE WORLD?

You be the judge. But here are my grievances:

  • Ridiculous amount of wasted space
  • Terrible visual clutter - users will get bored of the faux-steering wheel within about 10 minutes; everything else is squashed together as a result
  • Overarching metaphor puts users into the wrong mindset to make sense of the data - people are forced into thinking about 'speed' (or perhaps 'rate of progress') and 'fuel' ('resources left'), neither of which is represented on this dashboard
  • Circular elements in the middle are actually pie charts, not speedo dials, thus creating cognitive dissonance immediately for users
  • Traffic lights in top right are also dissonant - each light shows a different value, whereas a real traffic light communicates one thing with three lights (if that seems inefficient, maybe that's why you shouldn't use a traffic-light metaphor in an analytics dashboard)

The folks at AdTrack really need a kick up the proverbial for this. It's just such sloppy, lazy thinking. Bah, humbug!

(via Marketing & Graphic Design ROI)

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