Rise and fall
Whither complexity?

A budding field

Avinash has an interesting piece about some examples of visualization of Web data.  That's a very rich area since there is so much data.  I agree with his observation that there are precious few truly great charts that have thus far appeared.  (Note, though, that typically the more data, the more noise.  See this post.)

He discussed a tag cloud display of the top cities from which website visitors hail.  We like tag clouds too. See here, here and here.

He praised a particular pie chart because "the pie ... is just a stage prop".  It worked because all the data was printed on the chart itself.  This violates our self-sufficiency principle: if all the data is printed on the chart, and the only way to read it is to look at the data, then the chart serves no purpose.  More here.

He liked the Amazon's feature of customer ratings distributions.  Me too.  A powerful example of small graphics that make a huge impact.  Here is the typical Web rating display:
Amazon1 Almost everyone uses the statistical average. This hides information about how dispersed (or not) customer's reactions were.  The current Amazon display gives us this information:
Notice that 108 customers actually gave this book the lowest rating even though the average was four stars.

The most intriguing example was Google's comparison of keyword performance to the site average.  It's a good idea but the execution is wanting.


Firstly, I believe the percentages are much better presented as index values, with 100 being the site average.  Secondly, it is unnerving to have red associated with positive values, green with negative values, or to have negative values on the right of positive values.  I think they realize green and to the right should represent "good" (bounce rate of visitors lower than average) but this just doesn't work.  Thirdly, are the data labels really necessary?  they impede our sight lines when comparing bars.  And do we need to know to two decimal places?

PS. Apologies for the inconsistent font.  Typepad continues its mischief: I couldn't change the font size after adding a hyperlink.  Apparently I have to fix the font size before adding a link.  You also might notice the changing font size as I write this paragraph.  Don't know why there was a switch; I didn't ask for it.


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Jon Peltier

I thought the article by Avinash was a bit too wide-eyed with wonder at all the great new things, including pie charts and Excel 2007 (in a comment about halfway down).

As usual, Junk Charts has cut through the gaga effect with a thoughtful and practical analysis of the visualization alternatives.


Amazon's review bar graph is nice, but it does allow itself more space to give its more subtle message. I liked the approach of a review aggregator called summize.com, who presented their summary of reviews in the form of a stacked bar graph that took up little more space than the five stars of a conventional average. The five colors were red-orange-yellow-lime-green, and a strong consensus was distinguishable at a glance from a more distributed or controversial result.

Unfortunately the company seems to have changed from a review aggregator to a Twitter search tool, so I can't link to anything relevant on their site.


I find the overall ratings for technical books in Amazon fairly useless. Often the low ratings are given by people who simply can't understand the book because they don't have the maths skills to cope with graduate level statistics texts. See reviews of "Structural Equation Modelling: A Bayesian Approach" for an example. And those that rate the US postal service not the book, giving two stars because their book took two weeks to arrive are very misguided.


actually for the bounce rate website it is ok less bounce rate is better so if it is to the right and green it is fine (it means you have less visitors quitting on a single page access)

Avinash can be quite happy about simple things sometimes, but he usually knows what is good and whats not, I.E. for the pie he says that it is merely a prop to illusatrate the numbers, nothing else.

Sometimes charts are just that, visual support to you numbers, and not meant to be shown without any numbers.

if a chart is not a part of a daily report/dashboard, as long as I can read it and also get the numbers I dont mind ;)

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