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.

Maps of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is preparing for elections at the end of the month. For decades since independence from Belgium, the country has been beset by insurrection and civil war. Eastern portions of the country are all lawless and beyond the control of the government in the capital Kinshasa. Yet, DR Congo, which is almost the size of all of Western Europe, holds vast mineral and energy reserves.

Much like with the independence of South Sudan, the BBC has released a small interactive piece detailing DR Congo through maps. While not as extensive and lacking in visualising anything about the warfare and bloodshed, the piece is useful to gain a brief insight into the complexities of the country and the sheer scale of its problems. But that is not wholly surprising as the title of the piece is Failed State: Can DR Congo Recover?.

Screenshot of a guide to DR Congo
Screenshot of a guide to DR Congo

The European Debt Crisis. Again.

Nearly a month ago, the New York Times released an interactive piece along with a printed infographic about the European debt crisis in an attempt to explain just what is going on; I wrote about it here.

Now, the BBC has an interactive graphic showing how different countries relate to each other. The width of the lines relates to the amount of debt and the colours fall into three groups: red for high risk, yellow for medium risk, and grey for low risk. These are all fairly sensible and are echoed in the New York Times piece.

The BBC's explanation of the European debt crisis
The BBC's explanation of the European debt crisis

However, one advantage of the diagram used by the BBC is that the arrows emerge from an arc and show the total amount of debt going to the selected European (and US) economies. At least, I hope they do. That is how I read it, but it is not explicitly stated. I hope that I am correct. If so, this is better than the Times version which simply has a proportionally wide line starting from a circle. But without other lines, one cannot see the useful supplemental information about how much total trade the country has.

One element that sticks out is the selected state of the diagram. This uses a blue line that is rather crudely drawn atop the arc. Distractingly so. The colour choice works as blue contrasts with the reds, yellows, and greys, but the execution of the line drawing is simply poor.

Overall, the data is interesting, and if my assumption is correct, and presents a more meaningful picture of trade relations between the chosen countries. However, the execution of the piece’s design does leave me wanting more. And that, given the need to tell this story both completely and correctly, is unfortunate.

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

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.

Can a Republican Win the White House?

It’s Election Day. Well, not really. But, Nate Silver and the New York Times have come together to release an election simulator, if you will, focused on the chances that a Republican will win the White House.

Chances of Republican Candidates Winning the Election
Chances of Republican Candidates Winning the Election

You play with a few different variables to control the outcome: GDP growth and President Obama’s approval rating. These then are computed along with a few other things (I assume) and, like magic, you get to see your Republican pick’s changes of winning the election.

Keep in mind that these are just possible candidates, not necessarily likely candidates. John Huntsman, after all, is polling in the single digits in some of the early primary states. So while the moderate, centre-right, former ambassador to China, ex-governor of Utah looks almost unbeatable in several scenarios, I think most would agree that the Republican base will not vote for him.

But it is scenarios like that of Huntsman that are worth reminding us that perhaps the current party political system we have in the United States does not yield the best candidates for public office, nor the most broadly electable.

7 Billion Is a Big Number

We have seven billion living on the planet today. Or at least we think we do. Really, who knows? But for the sake of this blog post and many others like it along with news stories and water cooler conversations, let’s just say we’re at seven billion, okay?

So where do you fit into the giant seven billion-ness of the world?

The BBC can tell you.

You enter a few data points such as your birthday and the country in which you live, and you get a customised you-are-a-unique-snowflake report on how special you are.

The graphs are not particularly fancy, but they work. More interesting of the whole set is the world population where you are placed in the context of the global population.

Where You Fit Within the World Population
Where You Fit Within the World Population
Where Your Country of Residence Fits Within the World
Where Your Country of Residence Fits Within the World

Less interesting are the maps, which serve only to show you where in the world your country is located and then those of the greatest and least population growth or life expectancy. The secondary cases could be useful if the countries were small and relatively unknown. But in terms of life expectancy the highest growth is Japan most people know where Japan is located. The other countries noted, Qatar, Moldova, and the Central African Republic are probably less well-known by some, but could the data be better represented? Probably.

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.

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.

Show Me the Money

Campaign finance is always an interesting subject during election cycles. I believe I have heard that once a congressman wins election he needs to raise $1000 per week to stand a chance of re-election in two years’ time. One need only imagine the difference in scale for presidential contests.

Or do you…

Show Me the Money
Show Me the Money

The New York Times created an interactive piece that details the financing, principally of this year’s primary campaigns, but alongside data from four years ago. Inflation hasn’t been too terrible, so the numbers are relatively comparable.

Of some note, however, is that this time around this is not an ‘open’ election. In 2008 the sitting president was term-limited and his vice president was not running so both the Republicans and Democrats were open contests for any challenger to win. In 2012, President Obama will not (likely) have to fight other Democrats for the nomination of his party and his funding can be marshalled solely against his Republican challengers. Whereas the Republican challengers need to spend considerable amounts of their funding simply to get through the primaries.