Category Archives: Visualization

A novel way to make tabular data engaging

Regular readers know I’m a fan of the work of Edward Tufte, who the New York Times once described as The da Vinci of Data. The unifying theme of his many books and papers is finding ways to make complicated data simple and immediately understandable.

This is rarely easy. That’s why there is so much data presented in less than ideal graphical formats. Difficult-to-process-tables are one of the contributors to the Death By Powerpoint syndrome.

Is boring your audience a crime? No. But especially in an era where so much is changing so fast, the need for nearly instant understanding is even more important. There must be understanding of the facts before the right decisions can be made. Obviously, companies whose people make decisions based on what’s really happening have a significant competitive advantage.

Reshaping How Information Is Shown

I was reminded of this when I looked over an old post, Survey of marketing tech types finds ROI strongest for search and internal email tactics. Its source was this table of survey information, from eMarketer:

roi_tableConsider this the “Before” example, to be compared with the image below.

I found the insights in these survey results interesting and occasionally downright provocative. (You can click on the link above to read the observations that I thought were worth discussing.)

My problem: For me, at least, pulling insights from a table of percentages alone was nothing short of agonizing.

My solution was to convert it into this:

The Same Data Made More Understandable

Below is what I came up with (click for a slightly clearer version). After looking for other types of charting, I realized that the benefits of the table (many different comparisons can be made) could be combined with the benefits of a bubble graph (intuitive comparison of visual “volume”).

Perceived ROI by tactic, from 3,000+ search marketing pros

I don’t pretend to be a charting innovator, but instead present this as encouragement. If I can improve data using a simple graphics program (I used Visio), so can you.

Wearable computer hints at ways we might live digitally

Every year the TED conference introduces new and provocative ideas, many of which soon become commonplace. Two years ago, Jeff Han’s demonstration of multi-touch screens presaged the Microsoft Surface, and the first mass-produced multi-touch cell phone: the iPhone. These multi-touch screens are many things, but unencumbered is not an adjective that comes to mind.

Even the iPhone requires you to hold a cell phone, which is a barrier for a lot of real-world applications. MIT Media Lab’s Pattie Maes explained the challenge at the latest TED conference. She said that, for instance, “If you are in the toilet tissue aisle of your supermarket, you don’t take out your cell phone, open a browser and go to a web site when you want to know which is the most ecologically sound toilet tissue to buy.” She and Pranav Mistry, also of MIT’s lab, have devised a potential solution to accessing this type of rich information in the real world. They call call this sort of computer interface their Sixth Sense. Here is the video of the computer demo.

The demonstration had the audience on their feet, cheering.

Here are three things I love about this concept, as crude as it currently is:

  1. It’s cheap, light and small
  2. It can very quickly become cheaper, lighter and smaller
  3. With video recognition, the need for colored finger-markers will be unnecessary (so will logging in, since it will recognize its owner’s unique fingertips from anyone else’s)

Wearable computers have been talked about for decades, but this is the first user interface that is starting to make sense to me.

When Jeff Han’s concept of multi-touch computer interfaces was presented two years ago, my blog post was effusive about the possibilites. Someday we might be able to work standing up — more prone to both creativity and collaboration (please excuse the obscure pun). The biggest barrier to this future was that darned wall-sized screen. With the Sixth Sense device, any white wall becomes a screen — and an inviting whiteboard for one or more knowledge workers to play in.

Do you agree that this crazy contraption has a lot of possibilities?

Give your site a marketing checkup with Web Grader

No system for measuring the marketing power of a site is perfect, but one of the more comprehensive I’ve come across lately is WebSiteGrader.com.

This system takes your web address, looks over the site, and reports back on features such as the following:

  • How optimized your site is for search engines
  • How well you’re placed with major directories
  • Your currrent Google Pagerank and Alexa rank
  • The quantity of inbound links
  • Much more!

Web Site GraderIt even evaluates the reading level of the site, to make sure you’re not turning people off with your language. As a point of reference, this blog got a Secondary / High School rating.

The end of the report is a single score out of 100 possible points. Is spite of some obvious gaffes, such as no listing in DMOZ, this site got a 94. That means out of a sampling of 100 randomly selected sites, DigitalSolid’s marketing power is better than 93 of them. As of today, the process is free. Give it a try. In five minutes you’ll have a thorough web site marketing “check-up,” and concise recommendations on how to improve your score. Do you have any other favorite marketing power evaluation systems? Let me know.

WOM marketing, TwappyHour and Web414 meeting all help to explode myth of online social networks replacing “meatspace”

Mingling at a Business Marketing Association luncheon yesterday, outside the conference room with my fellow “Hello, my name is” attendees, I said something quite naive. I was chatting with a couple of our interns. Referring to the topic of the presentation, word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing, I said, “What we’re going to hear today will be far more relevant for you both than for people of my generation.”

My assumption was that the speaker would talk almost exclusively about using online social networks to generate WOM buzz. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The key case discussed by Spike Jones‘s excellent presentation was how his agency, promoting Fiscar scissors, identified those passionate about scrapbooking and fascilitated meet-ups.

True, there was a large social network component, complete with forums and blog posts. But once web-based connections were made, Spike’s agency created opportunities for scrapbooking enthusiasts to meet face-to-face. They met for weekends of shoptalk and bonding.

Social network tools simply acted as catalysts. They were, in essence, meatspace delivery systems.

Wikipedia defines meatspace as “referring to real life or the physical world … the opposite of cyberspace or virtual reality.”

 

Yes, We’re Digital Eggs — But We’re Also Flesh-and-Blood Chickens

Richard Dawkins, in his controversial articles, books and speeches, reminds us that all life beyond the simplest single-celled entities is digital. He put it like this: “You contain a trillion copies of a large, textual document written in a highly accurate, digital code, each copy as voluminous as a substantial book. I’m talking, of course, of the DNA in your cells.”

This genetic information reproduces itself more along the lines of a computer file making a copy of itself, rather than the way a photocopier reproduces off of itself. When you make a photocopy of a photocopy, very quickly things get grey and murky. With computer files, as with DNA, there is theoretically no information lost. Things replicate exactly (hard drive flaws and genetic mutuations notwithstanding).

In his book River Out of Eden, Dawkins helps to clear up that old chicken-and-egg conundrum. Sort of. He says we’re all fundamentally eggs (DNA), programmed to keep our species alive via reproduction. But here’s the rub: Eggs can’t reproduce unassisted. They need to grow into chickens. In this way, Dawkins contends that chickens are the eggs’ strategy for producing more eggs.

Thinking of our own flesh and blood as essentially a means to replicating our species’ string of digital information is something peolpe take several ways. They consider the paradigm either humbling, inspiring or alarming, depending on their theological perspective.

For some, in this networked age, Dawkin’s universe of pure information can be seductive. We can sometimes forget that in this digital banquet of the computer-mediated communication, first and foremost, we’re mammals.

And we’re particularly pack-oriented mammals at that.

Online Social Networks Abet Meet-ups

If Spike’s presentation didn’t remind me of the importance of face-to-face meetings (and it was, after all, held at a physical banquet room), my evening certainly did. I left work for two more meet-ups — both made possible through online social networks.

First, I met a group of new and long-standing friends facilitated by Twitter. Appropriately, it was called a TwappyHour, a term coined by organizer Augie Ray. It was a great way for me to put faces to Twitter “handles” I’d been communicating with for months. As Sam Dodge put it, “Meeting people this way after knowing them for so long online is pretty cool, but also kind of creepy.”

True enough. One thing that took away some of the oddness of it all was the atmosphere of our “Tweet-up.” It was The Iron Horse Hotel, a new boutique hotel at the foot of the 6th Street Bridge in Milwaukee, within wheelie distance of the new Harley Davidson Museum. Owner Tim Dixon gave this group of 20 or so Twitter-ers a tour of his amazing hotel.

The Iron Horse Hotel

I was particularly fascinated by Tim’s account of the rigorous market research he did as he planned his hotel, which is targeted to the surprisingly intersecting groups of motorcyclists and business people.

I’m looking forward to more of these TwappyHour sessions. Thank you again, Augie (and his lovely and charming wife Geri, owner of Metropawlis, for the discerning pet!) for making this amazing event possible.

After that, I headed to my first meeting of Web414, which was another demonstration of how computer-mediated communication still hasn’t replaced sitting together around a bowl of snacks. The topic was how to make the next BarCamp Milwaukee better. It was a fun introduction to both the group, and to the “meatspace”: Bucketworks. I’ll be returning to both often.

If I sound like a gushing gossip columnist as I recount my night, I can be excused. It’s all because I left both events exhilarated by the new friends I’d made, and with deepened connections to some existing ones. I’m forever grateful for the work I do, not because of the cool computing (although I would lie if I said that didn’t matter somewhat), but for the quality of the friendships and associations I’ve made through them.

To everyone with whom I shared this memorable night: I’ll see you online — and at future meet-ups.

Data sharing site sifts through the substance of current events

Social networks have sprung up around unexpected applications. One of the most useful, especially in the uncertainty of the last few weeks, is Many-Eyes.com, which is a social data visualization site. The premise is simple: People upload complex datasets that they feel they, and others, would like to analyze. The site then allows them to use some novel visualization tools.

Some of the best charts are available for public exploration, with no registration necessary. Here is one from the site’s home page today, dissecting the magnitude, in dollars, of various bailouts in recent history:

Click to go to Many-eyes.com

Other charts allow you to dig through data in unexpected ways. This word tree helps those interested in the substance of Katie Couric’s interview of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin to take in Palin’s answers sentence-by-sentence, starting with key words:

Click to go to Many-eyes.com

The datasets cover the gamut, from the mundane, to the crucial, to the sublime (example of this last type: All of song writer Leonard Cohen’s lyrics). Visit the site to see your world in a new way.

Expanded Facebook Lexicon helps marketers understand user zeitgeist

In the early days of radio journalism, reporters would conduct “man on the street interviews,” to get the opinion of “John Q Public.” The news-gathering ritual has extended into television reporting today. The technique makes for interesting coverage of a topic, but opinions recorded are hardly the unvarnished truth. When presented a microphone, all but the most incautious of us edit out statements to fit what he’d like the world to think of us.

If it were possible, a more accurate accounting of public zeitgeist might be to eavesdrop on a roomful of friends, discussing and arguing about the topic at hand. Listen in on enough rooms and you might be able to get a better feel for public sentiment.

That’s the concept behind Facebook’s Lexicon. This (currently) free feature allows marketers and others to slice and dice Facebook members’ comments on their friends’ Walls. Currently this new Lexicon version is limited to a list of roughly 20 terms. There are plans to open this up shortly.

An earlier Lexicon version showed relative volume of terms over time, but not actual numbers. This made any sort of statistical inferences impossible. The newer release shows the actual numbers, as well as these enhancements:

  • Demographics by gender and age
  • Geographic breakdowns down to state level. You can even compare breakdowns between two terms on the same map.
  • Sentiment over time, although Facebook hasn’t stated how it determines this.
  • Associations: Terms frequently mentioned alongside a given term.

Below is an example of terms associated with mentions of “Palin,” over the last two weeks. Significantly, it was within this period that Saturday Night Live (SNL) presented a much-talked-about skit, where Tina Fey played Sarah Palin at a press conference, standing beside Amy Poehler as a disgruntaled Hillary Clinton. The topic was sexism in the presidential race.

In the Associations graphic, the bottom dimension is gender, with the terms farthest to the right being used by more men than women. The graphic (which can be expanded by clicking on the image) shows that more women than men commented on Facebook walls during that time period with statements containing SNL, Tina Fey and skit (when also using the word Palin).

The caption at the bottom of the graphic helps you understand what you’re looking at:

The Y axis is the average age and the X axis is the average gender of users who posted the association. For example, a bubble up and to the left means that the association is more prevalent among older and more female users. A bubble down and to the right means that the association is more prevalent among younger and more male users. The size of the bubble indicates the number of times the word appeared alongside the topic in the given time window.

Explore Lexicon for yourself. And if you’re curious what all of the comments were about, check out the skit:

Pecha Kucha Milwaukee stages another successful event

Roughly 200 people attended Tuesday night’s Pecha Kucha Night, at Milwaukee’s Hi Hat Garage. I was one of them, and had the honor of being one of the presenters.

If you don’t know what a pecha kucha is, you should find out. Here’s a post about the evening (pre-event) on the blog of the Milwaukee organizer, 800-CEO-Read. It includes links to help explain what it is and why you should care.

This YouTube video of my presentation has just been posted:

Special thanks to Jon, Kate and everyone at 800ceoread for making this event, and the follow-up videos, such a terrific success.

You can see others from that night by reviewing this list on YouTube.

The evening was an absolute blast. I’m definitely going back. If you’re in the Milwaukee area, I hope to see you there.

Wish you had a map to the social media landscape? Here you go

This post, describing what the social media ecosystem looks like today, offers some excellent insights. Kudos to Fred Cavassa … brought to my attention by way of Jennifer Van Grove‘s “favorited Flickr” images, by way of her FriendFeed. Got that? If you’re unsure, Fred’s map may help:

Social Media Landscape

In Fred’s post, he defines these social media categories as follows:

  • Publication tools with blogs ( Typepad, Blogger, etc.), wikis ( Wikipedia, Wikia, Wetpaint, etc.) and citizen journalism portals ( Digg, Newsvine, etc.)
  • Sharing tools for videos ( YouTube, etc.), pictures ( FlickR, etc.), links ( del.icio.us, Ma.gnolia, etc.), music ( Last.fm, iLike, etc.), slideshows ( Slideshare), products reviews ( Crowdstorm, Stylehive, etc.) or products feedbacks ( Feedback 2.0, GetSatisfaction, etc.)
  • Discussions tools like forums ( PHPbb, vBulletin, Phorum, etc.), video forums ( Seesmic), instant messaging ( Yahoo! Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, Meebo, etc.) and VoIP ( Skype, Google Talk, etc.)
  • Social networks ( Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Hi5, Orkut, etc.), niche social networks ( LinkedIn, Boompa, etc.) and tools for creating social networks ( Ning)
  • Micropublication tools ( Twitter, Pownce, Jaiku, Plurk, Adocu, etc.) and alike ( twitxr, tweetpeek)
    Social aggregation tools like lifestream ( FriendFeed, Socializr, Socialthing!, lifestrea.ms, Profilactic, etc.)
  • Platforms for livecast hosting ( Justin.tv, BlogTV, Yahoo! Live, UStream, etc.) and there mobile equivalent ( Qik, Flixwagon, Kyte, LiveCastr, etc.)
  • Virtual worlds ( Second Life, Entropia Universe, There, etc.), 3D chats ( Habbo, IMVU, etc.) and teens dedicated virtual universes ( Stardoll, Club Penguin, etc.)
  • Social gaming platforms ( ImInLikeWithYou, Doof, etc.), casual gaming portals ( Pogo, Cafe, Kongregate, etc.) and social networks enabeled games ( Three Rings, SGN)
  • MMO ( Neopets, Gaia Online, Kart Rider, Drift City, Maple Story) and MMORPG ( World of Warcraft, Age of Conan, etc.)

It’s a huge social media world. If you haven’t already, start exploring!


NOTE: The last days of my summer vacation are near an end. My friends will be able to view photos and accounts on my Facebook profile once I get home!

Google and Radiohead: Two great tastes that taste great together

Google, it appears, has gotten into the music video business. They recently worked with Radiohead to create a video in support of the, HO USE OF_C ARDS. Watch the video, featuring the scanned face of Thom York:

What is so impressive is no cameras or lights were used. They instead collected information about the shapes and relative distances of objects (mostly York’s face) using laser scanning technology. The video was then created entirely through visualizations of this data.

Now explore that vast amounts of data that this laser face-scanning scanning technology yields. It’s amazing.

HOU SE OF_C ARDS video - data exploration

New use of Wii controller helps you swim through data

The ability of the Wii controller to sense our relative position and movement through space has created a gaming sensation. Here’s an example of using this same controller to interact with a 3D model, showing uncanny perspective.

The implications for how this interface could allow us to explore data are exhilarating. But what data? I have two examples:

Visual Thesaurus Anyone who has used the Visual Thesaurus knows what I mean when I talk about “swimming through data” (the video demo is embedded below). This interface translates all of the interconnectivity of a thesaurus into linked “nodes” that advance, recede and move out of our way as we dig deeper into the connections. One could conceivably move from node-to-node for hours, never reading the same word or phrase twice. And in such an experience, one would walk away understanding not only the meanings of words but how they are interrelated. This is invaluable.

Walk2Web The developers of this application show an appealing way to see how web sites are interconnected through their hyperlinks. In other words, a swim that had you diving off here, at this post, would lead you to both the Visual Thesaurus site and Walk2Web site. The journey would continue to the many sites from which these sites link. The interface shows summary information about each site along the trip, providing context and meaning to the interconnections. Again, you walk away understanding more about this “data set,” and learning a ton!

When Visual Thesaurus arrived on the scene many years ago, the concept was thrilling. The interface, with its enticing movement through two dimensions, was impressive. But how much better to involve the whole body — and a third dimension! — in the exploration of this network of interrelated concepts.

Do you have a favorite example of applications you could see more appealingly “swim-able” using this Wii controller and 3D visualization technology?

Summize helps marketers peer into the attitudes of a million+ Twitter fans

How is this for stating the obvious? Data mining is helping marketers better understand and cater to consumer behavior. Examples abound — even here, in Digital Solid. But this fact is worth repeating considering this latest example.

As reported and discussed in this GigaOm post, Twitter is likely to purchase Summize, which is a popular third-party application that searches and reports on keywords embedded in these 140-character packets of text. Om Malik of GigaOm conjectures that the reason for the purchase is less about search, which can be interesting, but about understanding consumer behavior, which can be useful to marketers.

This is an understatement.

The biggest question surrounding Twitter has been, How can this seeming toy ever break through and become a profitable business? This week’s news suggests a research product that, in its beta phase, is already quite good. Go to its Sentiment Analyzer and type in a phrase. Malik typed in keywords related to the acquisition of Summize by Twitter. Here was his result:

Analyzing what Twitter fans think of the Summize purchase

Sentiment is “Bad.” Obviously the majority of people Tweeting about the buy-out aren’t Summize’s soon-to-be-wealthier founders! If you want to see really bad, however, type in “Gas Prices,” as I did here:

Twitter Sentiment surrounding \'gas prices\'

It’s a fun toy. But the real time market research implications are huge.