Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lessons for data visualization from Steven Johnson's "The Ghost Map"

Blog post at PeteSearch

Snow wasn't the first person to draw these kinds of maps, he wasn't the first to draw them to track disease, and in fact he wasn't even the first person to map this particular outbreak! The Sewer Commision produced a very detailed map showing the death locations. The power of Snow's version came from his decision to leave out a lot of details (sewer locations, old grave sites, etc) that cluttered up the Commision's version. Their map was so muddled that it didn't tell a story, but Snow's was stripped-down to show exactly what he needed to bolster his theory that the epidemic spread from the water pump.

As Johnson puts it in his book "the map was a triumph of marketing as much as empirical science".

Turning data into money

Blog post at PeteSearch

Here's my hierarchy showing the stages from raw data to cold, hard cash:
  1. Data
  2. Charts
  3. Reports
  4. Recommendations
You're offering them direct ways to meet their business goals, which is incredibly valuable. This is the Nirvana of data startups, you've turned into an essential business tool that your customers know is helping them make money, so they're willing to pay a lot.

My rephrasing of Pete's post: Showing people information is usually not enough. You often have to recommend what to DO with that information.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Watching "the game"

Something of a misnomer...

Football (article from the Wall Street Journal)
According to a Wall Street Journal study of four recent broadcasts, and similar estimates by researchers, the average amount of time the ball is in play on the field during an NFL game is about 11 minutes.

The typical length of a broadcast is 185 minutes, making the actual game ~6% of your typical broadcast.

Baseball (article from the Wall Street Journal)

A similar study of two nine-inning baseball games, one from Fox and another from ESPN.

The result is that during these games, there was a nearly identical amount of action: about 14 minutes. To put that in context, that's about 10.9% of the total broadcast time (excluding commercials).

Add in commercials, and the proportion drops even lower.

Reminds me of the "human" body, where human cells are outnumbered 10 to 1 by bacteria.