The value of an infographic

Infographics are the new black. Well maybe not, bet they sure are popular these days. And that’s too bad. It’s too bad because today it seems that every JPG including some data and pictures is an infographic. Every day at least one of those pops up in my reader and I don’t know what the name for those JPGs should be but we sure shouldn’t refer to them as infographics.

“The purpose of visualization is insight, not pictures” Ben Shneiderman (1999)

So in case of infographics, if the visualization doesn’t enable you to have a clearer view on the information/data below, it’s pretty much worthless. Because if it doesn’t do that, it’s just another summation of data. Adding ‘clipart’ to it doesn’t change that fact. Manuel Lima did an interesting exercise to create an Information Visualization Manifesto which is worth reading.

“Form Follows Function. Form doesn’t follow data. Data is incongruent by nature. Form follows a purpose, and in the case of Information Visualization, Form follows Revelation. Take the simplest analogy of a wooden chair. Data represents all the different wooden components (seat, back, legs) that are then assembled according to an ultimate goal: to seat in the case of the chair, or to reveal and disclose in the case of Visualization. Form in both cases arises from the conjunction of the different building blocks, but it never conforms to them. It is only from the problem domain that we can ascertain if a layout may be better suited and easier to understand than others. Independently of the subject, the purpose should always be centered on explanation and unveiling, which in turn leads to discovery and insight.”

Keep on sharing those infographics, but stick to the real ones please. The ones that you can find on sites like +Datavisualization.ch. Everything else is a waste of time.

Registration is easy, what about activation?

Something bugs me. Not a day goes by or new usage data (preferably in the form of an infographic) gets shared online about one of the favorite social media initiatives such as Facebook, Twitter, … you know the lot. Big data, big numbers most of the time. What I don’t get though is why we all seem to copy/paste most of that information on our own blogs without really trying to understand what the numbers tell us (and what they don’t tell us). Everybody who once worked in a PR related job knows that companies publish numbers in a way so they look good. They use absolute numbers when they are worth it, percentages when they don’t look good and so on and so forth. When I say visitors to this website using Android have doubled over the last week (+100%) that is sounds much better than if I were to say there are now 2 people using Android to visit this blog instead of one. You catch my drift, I would really like to see some more analysis on those numbers before publishing if that’s not too much too ask.

Something else bugs me even more. When making these ‘analysis’, infographics and what not, people are not comparing apples with apples. Nobody seems to find it a problem that we’re always comparing 500M Facebook users versus 145M Twitter users (and some even against the 300M Windows Live users). For Facebook that are registered users, and as such most likely unique users. For Twitter that are registered users, and most likely that means registered accounts – and not unique users. I’ve got one Facebook profile just like most people but do use 3 Twitter accounts (@crossthebreeze, @iblogmustang and @krishoet). For Windows Live however the 300M users mentioned are active users, active meaning that they’ve logged on to the service at least once during the last 30 days. You can discuss about whether that is a good measure for being active or not, the point I want to make is that although they’re all big numbers they all don’t really mean the same thing. And that makes it unfair to just compare them like they are in my point of view.

Especially the registered versus active users is something really important to think about. When promoting webservices such as the ones we’re talking about you can imagine that generating awareness is the first big task on the agenda just like any other company. But because they are webservices I presume once you get the attention needed, driving registrations is not the toughest part. Registering to an online service is easy, I’ve registered to hundreds of services by now but use only a percentage of those on a regular basis. Activating users/consumers is the toughest part. People show interest when the buzz is up, but what is it that you do to keep them interested? That’s a tough challenge, a challenge to which many services fail if you ask me.

And it’s not just webservices of course, same counts for apps etc. There’s a boatload of apps available for my phone apparently and still I find it hard to find a dozen decent ones to download on the device. So don’t just report on the big numers PR people give you, those don’t always mean much (at least not to me). And please compare numbers worth comparing, otherwise that makes no sense either.

There you go. Had to get that of my chest.