Technology Today

Technology changes and changes rapidly. The United States led the way with cabled phone networks. Now, countries in Africa are skipping landlines and moving straight to mobile phones. The New York Times has an piece on the changes in technology and accompanies that piece with small multiples of choropleth maps that showcase different technologies and their prevalence.

Mobile Phone Subscriptions
Mobile Phone Subscriptions

What is interesting about these maps is that the Times eschewed the conventional Mercator or Robinson map projections and went with a slightly more unusual layout. But, a layout that saves some space by its contortion of the world’s oceans. Was their reason spatial or something more about maintaining consistent area? I would be curious to see the piece in print to see if it needed to fit a narrow column.

All in all, an interesting set of maps.

Campaign Ad Spends

I don’t know about you, but to me, it’s beginning to look a lot like campaign season. At least from what I read on the internet. Because, according to this interactive piece by the Washington Post, there has been little local campaign spending on ads in the Chicago television market.

Mad Spending
Mad Spending

By clicking on the left, you are able to see the spending amounts and spending places of ads by both personal campaigns and interest groups. For national ad campaigns, there is a small outline of the continental US in the bottom left.

Above the map you have some facts about the spending and spending over time and a curious bit about whether the ads are positive or negative. Already if you move from the beginning to now, you can watch the positive ad number slip.

Food Consumption

Via Fareed Zakaria, an interactive piece by Food Service Warehouse that looks at the leading nations of food consumption in calories—and what people spend for their food.

Leading (and Lagging) Food Consumers
Leading (and Lagging) Food Consumers

The map is not entirely useful, although it does at least hint at the geographic locations of the largest consumers (the West) and the smallest consumers (the Rest of the World). More interesting is the simple bar chart at the bottom of the interactive piece.

The BRICs a Decade Later

The BRICs are ten years old. Well, not really. But the concept of Brazil, Russia, India, and China becoming some of the world’s largest economies is. Well, not even that necessarily. But the coining of the term BRIC is a decade old. So the BBC has a small interactive piece showing why the BRICs matter.

BRIC GDP Growth compared to that of the US
BRIC GDP Growth compared to that of the US

They do some interesting things with the use of hues and tints to group lines in the line charts and provide consistent groupings throughout the piece. And they have photos of leaders. Just in case you do not know what the finance minister of Italy looked like back in 2001…just do not ask me to remember his name.

Much Improved Mapping of American Migration

Forbes released Jon Bruner’s latest map of migration in the United States. It uses IRS figures to show inbound and outbound movement from counties across the United States. The work itself is an improvement from his map from last year, which was a bit more difficult to read. Beneath is the new version, and at the end, for comparison, the old.

This year's migration map
This year's migration map

Firstly, the colour palette is far more sophisticated. Secondly, and most crucially, the user can hide the lines on the map, which obscures a key part of the story of migration in urban areas—higher income people moving out of the city and into the suburbs. Thirdly, the map data now includes additional years, which are available by clicking the small chart in the upper right—a welcome addition that allows the data from last year’s map to become accessible this year. Fourthly, and to be fair this may have existed previously but not that I can recall, the new map is accompanied by essays.

These essays use the map and its data to tell stories and explain what one sees going on with the data. It is (relatively) easy for one to put together a piece of data visualisation from a data set. But, without knowing where to look, users may not actually find anything valuable in the visualisation. By pointing to these essays, the map—already much improved from a design perspective—takes on a much more rounded and mature character and becomes more about generating information and knowledge than simply figures and statistics.

Last year's migration map
Last year's migration map

That’s a Whole Lotta People

On Halloween, we will welcome the 7 billionth person into this world. That’s a lot of people. And that means a lot of food, water, shelter, comforts, &c. Stress on limited resources could become a defining characteristic of the future.

The Washington Post has an interactive piece with a few graphics out there about the growth of population. This screenshot is from the first tab about consumption. When you press play and watch the highlighted countries move through time and space, you see that the United States has not seen drastic population growth (x-axis) but has, on a per capita level, witnessed a strong growth in consumption (y-axis). Conversely, India and China have seen little growth in personal consumption but have dwarfed all others in population growth. There are very few who countries that have moved greatly in both consumption and population. And that’s probably a good thing.

Population Growth v Consumption Growth
Population Growth v Consumption Growth

If you check out the Future tab, you will also see that in less than twenty years we will all be having another slice of cake for the 8 billionth person in the world…

Credit for the work goes to Patterson Clark, Dan Keating, Grace Koerber and Bill Webster of the Washington Post.

Oh Great Gatsby

Income inequality basically means that the wealth of a country, in this case, is unevenly distributed with most of it falling in the hands of a very few people or families. Think the era of, as the title alludes to, Gatsby and the 1920s before the Crash.

Broadly speaking, a middle class requires a more dilute concentration of wealth, and as this graphic from the New York Times shows, we are seeing—Great Recession aside—the growing wealth of the wealthy at the expense of the rest of the country. Look at, for example, the 1950s, 60s, and 70s when the highest income bracket had its marginal tax rate in the 70% range. The top 1% owned only about 10% of the wealth. Just before the subprime crisis hit, that number was just under 25%.

Ownership of US wealth for the top 1%
Ownership of US wealth for the top 1%

European Debt Crisis Explained

The European debt crisis affects all of us. Shares fall on the exchanges in Frankfurt, Paris and London and then ripple westward to New York before finally reaching Hong Kong and Tokyo. But does anyone understand actually understand who owes whom what?

This interactive piece is yet another from the New York Times and is an online version of a print graphic that appeared in Sunday’s paper. Online, interactivity is used to focus attention on particular elements of the story, highlighting key components of the tangled debt web that anchors the whole piece. The width of the lines relate the difference between borrowers and lenders.

An Overview of the European Debt Crisis
An Overview of the European Debt Crisis

Hidden in the width of the arrows, however, is the gross lending. The lending may appear to cancel itself out, but the banks and other sources of the loans may not all be lending to each other, i.e., some big players could still take a hit if the crisis worsens.

The colours reflect the level of ‘worry’ in the country—though how worry is defined is left unstated.

Different parts of the story and potential scenarios are revealed by clicking buttons on the left-hand side of the piece. Elements of the large graphic that are not needed to tell that part of the story, though remaining pieces remain in place. This is an effective means of reminding the audience where they are situated in the overall web, but I wonder if not a slight shadow or faint trace of the web in the background could have been used instead of losing all the information entirely.

Overall, the interactive piece is quite effective in telling the story. But, because this was in the Sunday paper, the lazy afternoon paper, we also have a large-scale printed infographic that the interactive piece accompanied.

The Printed Explanation
The Printed Explanation

This has a lot more text—dreaded words—to further explain just what is happening. In my mind this adds to the story. For example, what I noted above about the net loans between two parties obscures the gross loans of both sides. This point is explicitly made about Britain and Ireland, which have enjoyed a very strong bilateral trade arrangement for a number of years. This context is added by a little text blurb crafted into the overall design of the piece.

Different scenarios are highlighted at the bottom with a reduction of the main piece creating small multiples of the diagram instead of how the interactive piece removed unnecessary elements. I think this is an equally effective means of solving that problem.

The New York Times created two separate but very much related pieces to explain a story that affects us all. The first media, the interactive piece, takes advantage of the ability to replace on the screen what is not necessary with what is necessary. Further, it allows some data that is not so relevant at first glance to be hidden. Mouse over the various lines and countries to reveal the data behind the problem for each. Do we need this information at first? No. Our first order is to try and work out the web we weaved. Well, that the bankers weaved.

That is very different than the print edition, which cannot be changed. All the content must be available at once. But, the data is made smaller because the print resolution is finer than that of a screen. Small text that might not be legible on a screen can be printed and read just fine. The printed edition also allows more space and thus more text for context. And this is okay knowing that the Sunday paper is likely to be read while relaxing with a fine cup of tea or coffee.

Credit for the piece goes to Bill Marsh.