Ron Paul confuses the charts
Nothing works while visualizing a poll 1

How to mess up a bar chart

Klout_barchartKaren Lopez at InfoAdvisors sent in what she calls "the stupidest bar chart of 2011" (link), showing us that one can mess up bar charts too.

This chart originally came from an infographic (link) published by Klout, which is a venture-funded startup that is creating an "influence" rating of online entities.


If we use the Junkcharts Trifecta Checkup (link), we find that the design failed on at least two of the three criteria.

What is the interesting question being addressed? It's the relative "influence" of the top websites in 2011. Readers would probably want to learn more, such as why it's the Top 11 rather than Top 10. Also, as they pointed out in the write-up, a tiny company called "SoundCloud" appeared in this list, which calls into question the ranking methodology. In addition, I wonder what people go to McDonald's website to do, and why Walmart instead of Amazon.

The choice of data is the key failure here. While Klout is a rating system, for some reason they chose to display the ranking on this bar chart. Ranks invite readers to presume that the difference between Facebook and Youtube is the same as between Walmart and Netflix, or that the difference between Facebook and Skype is double that between Facebook and Youtube, or that the difference between Facebook and Apple is the same as the difference between YouTube and McDonald's, etc.

In reality, and especially for this sort of data (influence), one is likely to encounter highly skewed distributions.

The graph itself is executed poorly. Karen asked:

Notice how 11th place Facebook has more bar?  But it’s in the worst place in the list.  Or is it?

The bar chart would make sense if rating is being plotted. With rank data, the bar chart is completely redundant.


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It is very easy to get confused with what data to show and what not to show. Bar charts can be really tricky if not thought through.

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