Data + Design

data-design-cover

A team of over 50 people have collaborated in Data+Design, a book about preparing and visualizing information.

It’s a thorough but simple introduction to data collection and visualization, very thoroughly written and chock full of great advice.

bars

axis labels

 

labels in mobile charts

labels in mobile charts

It’s open-source too, published in its present form using O’Reilly’s Atlas e-publishing platform, which produces very clean, readable books.

Go and read it here.

 

How to create an embeddable timeline chart


The other day, web developer friend asked me how to create and insert a timeline into WordPress. He actually wanted to put an interactive timeline with links, images and video on the homepage of a news site.

I checked out several options out there and settled on TimelineJS. You can create timeline charts directly on their web site. Each story in the timeline has to be loaded as rows in a google spreadsheet. You can enrich each of the “steps” or events with links, videos and pictures and everything’s stupid-easy to use.

At the end you get an iframe embedding code that you can copy and paste to your site. But they even have a WordPress plugin for that. There’s even other developers who have created alternative tools based on TimelineJS that allow you to play with more settings.

So if you ever need a quick and dirty solution to build a timeline and tell a story, look no further.

 

Now, if you’re a developer and you want a proper, scalable and maintainable solution, that’s another story.

In the case of my friend, depending on an external site for such a crucial part of a website is not a good idea. What if these guys decide to abandon the product (hope not!)? What if their site goes off-line? My friend may lose his content temporarily or permanently. It’s not maintained by him, it’s not hosted by him, it’s not backed up by him. His content it’s not his.

So, the correct solution is to find a way to self-host a similar solution.

Fortunately and amazingly, TimelineJS is an open source tool and it’s on GitHub. If you’re a developer like my friend, you can download the source code, copy it to your server and that’s it. You’ll have a fledged timeline builder in minutes.

 

amCharts, a charting library for creating interactive web charts

amcharts
amCharts is a new JavaScript library for creating charts on the web. It handles many types of charts and it’s somewhat reminiscent of D3.js.

Its most exciting feature is a live editor, which removes the grunt work related to your typical JavaScript charting library and enables you to design, change and export your chart to HTML and include it in your website or dashboard. You can try it out for free here. Amazing work and amazing tool.

For me, the most important feature is the ability to show a chart scrollbar that enables you to zoom in and out of a section of the chart, in less than 5 minutes, like so:



Nate Silver And The Age of Data Journalism

538_intro4

A few days ago, the new version of Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight went live, backed by ESPN.

According to Silver’s observations, explained in his site’s manifesto, the market is ripe for a data-oriented journalism.

I totally agree. A day doesn’t go by in which I hear or read an argument that painfully drags along because of its lack of data. Facebook, Twitter and the traditional media are full of these poorly documented ideas and debates.

I don’t know how it is in other countries, but where I come from, us engineers chose our career because we were socially awkward and/or bad with words, whereas others chose mass communications because they were poor at math. Turns out that basic math and the arithmetic rule of three are insufficient tools for explaining complex phenomena in the real world.

One of the first posts in FiveThirtyEight was precisely about my home country and it coldly and matter-of-factly explains the current political crisis just using numbers.

I think that you either believe in science (and the importance of science) or you don’t. And it’s a dogma. People from one camp just cannot have arguments with the other because they live in different realities. “Do you believe in science? Do you know how to spot a tainted poll?” should be the starting questions for any debate.

And if you believe in science and want to have intelligent discussions or want to report the issues, then you better take a look at the numbers and take the time to understand them. We are living in a world with a fantastic overabundance of data, in which public databases are just a click away, tools like Excel and R allows you to do statistical analysis and sites like FiveThirtyEight digest and explain what the data says in (somewhat) easier terms. There’s no excuse –besides trolling– for being an ill-prepared journalist or discussing well-documented issues using false premises.

 

How to build quick and free charts

apples-oranges_chartbuilder

Back in July 2013, the guys from released their Chartbuilder tool to the rest of the world.

Quartz is a very successful online magazine. For their charting needs they use Chartbuilder, a web tool they built to streamline their cumbersome Excel-based process and convert it to a three step copy+paste, copy+paste, publish workflow.

Author David Yanofksy:

(…) frustrated by the amount of my own time it was taking to produce even the simplest charts in our style, I set out to make a tool that would allow me to support the charting needs of the newsroom without consuming all of my time. It quickly turned into an application for the entire newsroom.

Back in July 2013 they released the tool to the rest of us. Chartbuilder can be downloaded and installed in your machine, but you can also use their hosted version here.