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The Lifecycle of a Web Page on StumbleUpon

StumbleUpon in collaboration with a design studio in California called Column Five used a simple, straightforward graphic to convey the data that a “StumbleUpon drives more traffic referrals than any other social media site” and thus should be the method of choice to increase the lifecycle of a single web page. This end initiative is never stated, but rather, through compelling and convincing graphics, is encouraged.

The audience, web developers, designers, and the like, might find this particular data visualization relevant and compelling for a number of reasons. Working as a web developer myself, I have been surrounded by the gritty statistics of social media, networking, and publicizing in order to vamp up web page views. It is all about the numbers.

However, in this piece, the numbers are set aside for a minute to appreciate a simple solution: StumbleUpon creates advantage and thus, those numbers for you. The illustration is not necessarily about the numbers (the audience would, or should, already know the statistics involved). It is about efficiency, creating more time with less work. In this respect, the information graphic properly shows the important elements: how often does the individual visit the site and how long do they stay engaged within that page.

The data is extremely relevant to a specific audience, a group of people already equipped with prior knowledge of the topic (of social networking, the players involved, and even a prior understanding of StumbleUpon). The designer has then used this research of their audience to connect to an emotional tie of developers — that efficiency is the key, and anything to save time is money (in more ways than one).

The marketing emphasis is not as evident as I would have shaped it to be. But the message is clear: over other social networking sites, StumbleUpon is the shining star amidst them all. It saves times (for the developer himself in having to find new avenues to promote their sites) and boosts page views and provides a pretty impressive networking package.

Pancreatic Cancer Survival Rates Aren’t Improving

Created by Pancreatic Cancer UK, this infographic targets the population of the United Kingdom in order to highlight the many unknown facts regarding pancreatic cancer.

The graphic allows the audience to scroll through the information at their own pace, giving them the time to comprehend the statistics and their implications.

What makes this data visualization relevant to its audience is its kick-off. It immediately personalizes the concept, individualizing it to each viewer by prompting them to think of themselves (the individual is more memorable than the masses, according to Mother Theresa). It causes the audience to consider their own well-being — that this one organ, the pancreas, is vital to life. And for those with healthy pancreases, it is an unrecognized blessing that should not be taken for granted.

After tying the emotional connection to their own reality, the visualization presses the truth further. There are people who aren’t as fortunate as you, whose ill pancreas within them is the cause of their demise. By stringing the information through a personalized pattern of thought, the consumer is led to help by spreading the word.

The entire piece is simple and straightforward, even in its design. It uses a monochromatic palette of purple and white with clean lines and bold typography. The audience is not confused by extract “fluff” or large numbers or overwhelming statistics. They are simply led to understand a concept through their own experience of living, a universal and stunningly effective approach (it even made me look down at my stomach and wonder about the effect of the pancreas, that it is keeping me alive, yet I never give it a second thought, and am blessed not to have to).

Oil’d

In honor of the first anniversary of the massive Gulf oil spill in April 2010, Chris Harmon wrote and created Oil’d, a short typographic animation. As time passed, interest in the disaster had waned; Harmon hoped his motion graphics would encourage further discussion within the United States regarding the oil spill.

He wanted his data visualization to answer two pressing questions and reengage the public:

1)  How much oil was lost?
2)  If not for the disaster, where would it would have gone?

However, while some aspects of his design were helpful in making the content relevant to the general public, his visualization of oil dependency was over-saturated in data. The graphics were generally clean and simple, as well as easy to read and comprehend, but the amount of information conveyed was overwhelming.

Part of making information relevant is making it rememberable. “Statistical numbing,” an article by David Ropelk, describes the danger of providing too much data. “A fundamental deficiency in our humanity” is that we cannot grasp the ramifications of such large numbers. As Mother Theresa wisely said, “If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.”

While Harmon attempted to connect his data to an overarching message, the great amount of statistics that led to the crux of the animation was unfocused and sporadic. His main idea that the oil lost in the gulf is equal to the amount of oil that the United States uses in just seven hours is astounding. However, his prompt to “Make a difference” per this statistic fell short and represented a mere few seconds of the data-heavy presentation.

If I had the chance to make this presentation more relevant, I would refocus the consumption of oil back on the audience (in this case, each individual). I would compare daily tasks that individuals within the United States participate in with the amount of oil that each task then consumes. In this way, it wouldn’t be about throwing out huge numbers that represent the entire US population, but would individualize the content, making it relevant and applicable to each viewer. And, in effect, it could make a prompt to “Make a difference” more understandable in that the viewer can equate their action to a positive change in the data they just received.

We Feel Fine — The Web’s Secret Stories

Nathan Yau in his article, “Thoughts about visualization and stories” refers to Jonathan Harris’ web project, We Feel Fine, as an excellent example of “humanizing data” and making it relevant to the audience. However, in some respects, I beg to differ. The concept is both thought-provoking and unique, giving the audience a new lens through which to view the content of the web via an individual’s feelings. The program Harris has created pulls images and phrases from the web using the words “feel” or “feeling,” and arranges them according to a myriad of organization factors (gender, location, weather, age, etc). However, Harris makes several presumptions about his audience that put his project in jeopardy.

The TED conference introduces We Feel Fine as a program which renders artistic creations meant to capture “the world’s expression and and give us a glimpse of the soul of the Internet.

The distribution of data over a worldwide map

I beg to question this illustrious and wide-angled focus. Does his project really take into consideration the entire world? Harris quickly brushed through the program’s view to place feelings on a map of the world (so quickly in fact, that I could barely grab a screen shot). It shows that the majority of the data has been gathered from the United States, biasing the project’s results tremendously. It also makes me question how many languages this project encompasses, if it perhaps has not limited itself by the nature of its data-gathering abilities.

Harris depicting the distribution of age for the project "We Feel Fine"

And, especially regarding age, his project is quite narrow in its focus. Harris even states himself that “we can see people in their twenties are the most prolific…and it dies out very quickly from there.” Perhaps Harris should reevaluate how he is framing this project? Its scope isn’t as broad as one might think because, in short, the data doesn’t exist.

It isn’t that Harris’ project isn’t relevant, but rather the project isn’t relevant to its intended audience, especially in how Harris has presented it to the public.

Harris defines “We Feel Fine” as a dissection of the “world’s expression.” This term world is used ambiguously. In fact, Harris’ “world” is the population of the United States in their twenties who have the internet access and desire to post their “feelings” to the web. This look at the “world’s expression” is actually rather limited when placed in its proper context. Since the data did not exist outside of these found constraints, Harris should have reformulated the project in terms of its actual purpose (in this case, a look at the feelings of young, prolific Americans who participate in blogging/sharing environments).

I believe being “relevant” in creating data visualizations is being upfront and honest with the source of your data and true span of your audience. With Harris’ presentation, a fifty year old European man or woman, once faced with the true data (of the age bracket and location), might find himself or herself ostracized due to inaccurate displays of information. If Harris had been precise and honest, they could have approached the data with a different, more accurate, expectation in mind.

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