To Compare the Fares of Cabs

If you live in a big city, you’ve probably been running late, missed the bus or the train, needed to get home safely at least once. So you’ve probably taken a cab.

This interactive graphic from the Washington Post compares cab fares across a number of major cities in the United States. The cheapest cab rides are to be found in Washington D.C. The priciest are in Honolulu.

Comparison of Cab Fares Across Major US Cities
Comparison of Cab Fares Across Major US Cities

Credit for the piece goes to Todd Lindeman and Sisi Wei.

Troop Levels in Iraq

A few days ago, President Obama announced that all but perhaps 150 US troops in Iraq would be home before 1 Jan 2012. While the mission may have been accomplished over 8 years ago, we are finally seeing an end to the Iraq War.

Both the BBC and the New York Times created charts to show the strength of US forces in Iraq since the start of the war up until the end—the New York Times also compares these to troop levels in Afghanistan where we have a new ‘surge’ of troops.

The two are slightly different. The first from the New York Times is an interactive piece that allows you to mouse over each bar and access the actual number of troops present in Iraq that month. The bars are spaced tightly together with only the necessary gap to break apart years and provide the vertical scale.

New York Times chart
New York Times chart

The BBC piece is a static image with no interaction. I do not care for the clustering of years, it breaks the visual rhythm of the piece and interrupts the story. I think in the design of the piece that the New York Times has the better and more effective chart. However, where the BBC truly succeeds is in offering bits of explanation for changes in the chart.

BBC chart
BBC chart

One might think that the war lasted several years with periods of great battles and great troop losses because the  number of soldiers stays roughly at 140 thousand. But the text lets us know otherwise. The first is obvious, the war begins. But it progresses to things like the declaring of mission accomplished, the surge, and when US troops left Iraqi cities.

These are not difficult pieces of analysis, nor do they require much investigatory journalism, but they provide the context that allows the chart to tell the story in its numbers.

Year of the Tornado

2011 appears to be the year of the tornado, with killer tornados roaming from Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, and small towns in the deep South now to Joplin, Missouri. The latter now holds the record for being the most deadly, 117 confirmed deaths, in US-recorded history.

The New York Times, in its coverage of the aftermath—and the potential for more destruction with the forecasted weather—has mapped, charted, and animated data from the National Weather Service (NWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to illustrate the totality of the devastation witnessed this year.

The piece makes use of a map to illustrate where tornados struck and then their subsequent track, relevant geographic data, and that matches that with known fatalities using the always popular area of a circle datapoints. I am less keen on these for their cross-comparable nature, but here, in this instance, that is less the focus than the overall number of deaths and their locations. Then we also have the dataset over time with the noted caveats that, one, only in 2011 are deaths linked to counties rather than tornados as in all years past and, two, that as our ability to detect and record tornados has increased, we have more data with which to work. In short, it is not necessarily true that 1953 had less tornados than 2011.

Screenshot Detailing 2011 Tornados
Screenshot Detailing 2011 Tornados

Given the severity of the current year, and this outbreak in particular, the New York Times also created a smaller, but by no means lesser, piece to highlight just those tornados striking the Southeast. This piece maps the tornados by touchdown, date, and time. Omitted is data on fatalities or damage. However, this piece complements the larger, broader view of the above by breaking down the 2011 year, thus far, into increments of days. This is a great complementary piece that, by being separate from the first piece, allows each to shine in its own respective area.

The Outbreak of 27 April
The Outbreak of 27 April

Credit to this second piece goes to Archie Tse, Matt Ericson, and Alan McLean.

Finnish Election Results

Finland held an election that was worth watching because of the rise of a nationalist party whose name translates to True Finns. The leader of the True Finns was interviewed and at the end he reassured all watching that they “are not extremists. So you can sleep safely.” For Europe, the issue is their opposition to the bailouts of the various European economies, such as Ireland and Greece. And now that Portugal is in the midst of bailout negotiations, the True Finns could complicate matters if they manage to make it into government.

The Finnish Ministry of Justice released a small, interactive piece detailing the results. The parties are represented by acronyms, with PS for the True Finns. And here one can see that they performed third-best with about 19% of the vote. The True Finns actually beat the Centre Party, which was the leading party in the last coalition government. In short, a remarkable rise whose impact is yet unknown.

Overall Vote in Chart Form
Overall Vote in Chart Form

The interactive piece, however, is a tad confusing. While one story is certainly the improvement of the True Finns from the last election to the current one, does that need to be shown in the default view as we have here? And what I perceive to be shading or some sort of split colouration in the bars lends itself to the idea of having two separate sets of data encoded in the bar. Although I can see no such data and am thus confused.

But, fortunately, one can also change one’s views of the data, from column to bar to table. And I daresay that the table, in this instance, I find best. Not because the data could not be visualised in an interesting, compelling and comprehensible fashion, but because it was not.

Overall Vote in Table Form
Overall Vote in Table Form

Certainly, the election results provide interesting data sets. And in this case we clearly have an interesting story, the rise of the True Finns from a small, rural party of 5 seats in the Finnish parliament (200 total seats) to the third-largest party with 39 seats. Alas, this piece leads does not make it easy to tell that story—let alone the results of the election.

Maps Made by Hand (Or Simulations Thereof)

Le Monde is a French-language publication and so I never really bother with it, despite favourable reviews. However, they do have a small site with some content in the English language that I check from time to time. Frequently they have maps or other graphics of some interest, and this time upon visiting—done to see if they have anything on Libya given the lead taken by France and the UK—they had a few maps of the situation in North Africa.

Political Situation in North Africa and the Middle East
Political Situation in North Africa and the Middle East

By and large, nothing radical or ground-breaking in the maps. But, the designer, Philippe Rekacewicz, used a different cartographic perspective than I am at least accustomed to seeing for infographics. And then the aesthetic of the map is interesting, and quite different than what one typically sees. In a refreshingly interesting way. Now, whether he used a texture or filter in Photoshop to create the background map or whether he physically drew the map (and then overlaid the informational elements digitally), it matters little as the style works. I enjoy the idea of mixing the hand-made and data visualisation—though it needs to be well-executed.

He created a few sets of maps; each makes use of a slightly different palette. These certainly help create the visual distinction necessary between data sets. The pie charts are not particularly helpful, but they at least are kept simple: looking at only two parts of the whole. The comparison within each nation by bar charts of internet connectivity and higher-education learning works. It begins to work not so well as one tries to compare country to country. Though, the separation of the bars into ten-percentage point sub-bars begins to alleviate that issue. The main map, that highlights the political situation does a nice job of putting these countries into broader context. That is, who has oil and who has control over the key waterways in the region.

the three smaller maps
the three smaller maps

All in all, a refreshing set of maps that illustrate the fluid situation in North Africa and the Middle East.

iPads on eBay

This post comes to us from eBay via cnet. Ebay does a wonderful thing, it fills in the gaps in the marketplace. If you live in, say, the Netherlands, and want something that is available only in the United States, chances are you might find somebody willing to sell it to you from the US.

Among those things that people want are iPad 2s. So here eBay has put together an infographic about their sales of iPad 2s from US sellers to foreign buyers.

sales of iPad 2s abroad
sales of iPad 2s abroad

I must admit to being a bit underwhelmed here. Maps are great and all, but here this map adds nothing to the story except that I can now identify where Poland is. It’s an island country north of Belgium. Or is that France? Wait, what is this lonely sticker-tag for the United Kingdom out in the Atlantic? The data encoded in the map is already present in the datagraphic, if you look to the bar chart of iPad shapes in the lower left quadrant.

But the bar charts do confuse me, I very rarely like using symbols of things for measuring precise numbers of things when those symbols of things represent a number of things more than just one thing. (And that is about as confused as I feel.) And then on another level, I have to strain for a moment to figure out what these three-letter identifiers are. As it just so happens, there is a standardised set of country abbreviations in both two and three letters. When I see UNK, I immediately think Unknown. And RSS makes me think of RSS feeds. Neither connects me to the United Kingdom or Russia.

In the bottom right is the breakdown of sales by model type. Here, where the treatment is simpler we see more success at clearly communicating the information. Could it be more succinct and a touch better organised, yes. But, in all, this is clear and effective. Ergo, it works.

Interestingly, cnet also posted the previous year’s infographic by eBay for sales of the first iPad.

sales of the iPad abroad
sales of iPads abroad

Very loosely (and quickly), I think it is more successful and tells more data. The data on the map, like this year’s, need not be communicated by a map, that much is true—why are the countries two shades of blue, I have no idea if that encodes data. However, the same data is also duplicated in the chart in the lower left quadrant, but here far more succinctly and far more accurately than by weird symbols of the iPad. Last year’s infographic is missing the breakdown by model type, however, instead of those six datapoints, here we have a timeline of iPad sales that, it is safe to say, references more than six datapoints.

In a sense, eBay took a step backwards in their infographics. A pity, because one imagines that if they have the sales data for time periods, they probably have other sets of data that would make for an interesting and richer piece.

Credit to the designers at eBay and cnet for posting the article.

Pie Charts v Bar Charts, Round…Some Really High Number

Not strictly a commentary on a piece or project, instead, this is a link to an interesting opinion piece about the Great Infographic Debate, i.e., most loosely and least helpfully, substance vs. style, vis-a-vis the use of pie charts and such vs. bar charts. Where does one draw the line between clear communication and, frankly, just getting somebody’s attention so that one can communicate?

From the article, an illustration of just how bar charts are significantly better than pie charts at clearly communicating data such as which is the largest data point.

The largest datapoint is obvious, but what about the order of those that follow?
The largest datapoint is obvious, but what about the order of those that follow?

Thanks to Ben for the heads up.