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Infographic explaining the Rise of Data Storytelling
Humanity is creating more data than ever before, and more of that data is publicly accessible.
While “data is the new oil” has almost become a cliché, the impact that data abundance is having on the world is undeniable. All of the world’s most valuable companies are heavily reliant on data for their continued success. Even oil giant Saudi Aramco, the world’s most valuable company, runs a 6,000 m² data center, and is partnering with Google Cloud.
In a world where nearly everything is quantified, communicating insights from that data becomes a massive opportunity. This is where data storytelling comes in. In simple terms, it’s the difference between simply making a chart, and actually explaining what it means, why it’s important, and how it fits into the broader context. This style of data-driven communication is cropping up everywhere, from newsrooms to corporate communications.
Here, we examine five megatrends fueling the rise of data storytelling.
It’s estimated that between 2015 and 2025, the world will see a 16-fold increase in data.
Thankfully, data storytelling is an emerging field that thrives on information abundance.
As our society and economy grow more complex, more high-quality, actionable information is critical for today’s decision makers.
Trust in news media has been declining for decades, and in many countries around the world, the majority of people don’t feel that media is a trustworthy source of information.
Trust in social media is similarly shaky. Only one-third of people surveyed around the world believe that social media is a trustworthy source of information. As well, a recent poll found that 75% of U.S. adults felt that political views were likely being censored by social media platforms.
The mass media ecosystem as it currently exists is facing a crisis of confidence. When a system is no longer adequately serving the needs of its users, that system is ripe for disruption.
This information abundance should be propelling humankind forward, but more often than not, valuable insights are lost in the noise—either poorly presented or pushed to the margins by clickbait and other distractions.
Today, most of us rely on algorithms and aggregators to deliver information to us. Over time, those systems become very good at feeding us information that is generally what we’re looking for. The downside, however, is that engagement-driven algorithms reward only the most compelling narratives. The handful of stories you see are the result of fierce, darwinistic competition on platforms like Twitter or Medium.
This hyper-competitive environment is part of the reason there are so many problems with media today—clickbait and tabloidization being two prominent examples.
Data storytelling takes potentially dry, complex topics and makes them more accessible, compelling, and more likely to win the battle for people’s attention.
Many of our existing systems look the way they do in part because of past technological limitations.
Search engines, for example, are still largely driven by text-based considerations. This makes sense as the early internet was essentially a collection of pages with text and hyperlinks.
Today, search engines are much better taking other forms of information into consideration, and technological advancements are breaking new ground in analyzing video and data visualizations. Advancements in AI could soon allow users to search for visualizations in ways that don’t even involve text keywords.
In a future where searching for information in a visual format is as intuitive as a Google search today, the utility and reach of data storytelling will increase dramatically.
Even as the number of people with professional credentials in data analytics, data science, and other similar professions is on the rise, it’s never been easier for laypersons to create and publish high quality visualizations.
Free tools which are usable on almost any device have broken down barriers of access for millions of people around the world. There is now a universe of resources for people and organizations looking to convert data into a compelling visual format.
Below is a shortlist of data storytelling resources ranging from the intuitive design tools to powerful coding language libraries:
Of course there are many more resources out there, and we’ll be covering this more comprehensively in the future.
The concept of “the last mile” is typically associated with e-commerce. Fulfillment can be centralized in massive hubs and delivery can be optimized with uniform trucks and precise routes, but neighborhoods and residences refuse to conform to rigid standards. The last mile is where the orderly world of logistics fragments into randomness, making this leg of the journey the thorniest problem for companies like Amazon to solve.
This last mile analogy lends itself to communication as well. Analytics and datasets can be polished and made publicly accessible, but the real world is messy. Humans are unpredictable, each with their own style of learning and varying levels of data literacy.
Also, unlike e-commerce—which begins with a defined request—insight comes in unexpected flashes. Those moments of serendipity need the right conditions to occur, and the fact of the matter is, most sources of high quality information (databases, white papers, reports, etc.) are only accessed by the small number of people who conduct research for a living.
This is the great opportunity presented by data storytelling. High quality information is distilled into a form that is more digestible, memorable, and sharable, allowing more people to benefit from this era of information abundance.
Put simply: data storytelling bridges the gap between under-utilized knowledge and the growing number of people who are striving to separate the signal from the noise.
Sorry to interrupt your reading, but we have a favor to ask. At Visual Capitalist we believe in a world where data can be understood by everyone. That’s why we want to build the VC App – the first app of its kind combining verifiable and transparent data with beautiful, memorable visuals. All available for free.
As a small, independent media company we don’t have the expertise in-house or the funds to build an app like this. So we’re asking our community to help us raise funds on Kickstarter.
If you believe in data-driven storytelling, join the movement and back us on Kickstarter!
Thank you.
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Each year, thousands of migrants take the journey along the Eastern Mediterranean to get to the EU. Some never make it to their destination.
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Each year, thousands of migrants flee war-torn countries in search of asylum.
Even before the migrant crisis caused by the Russo-Ukrainian War, Europe has been the focal point in the past decade. Many refugees from conflicts in Africa and Asia, including those from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and have traveled to Europe along the Eastern Mediterranean migration route—a dangerous passage across the Aegean Sea that weaves along the coastlines of Greece and Turkey.
The journey to reach Europe is risky, and some of the migrants who attempt the crossing never make it. Using data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), this map by Elbie Bentley visualizes the reported deaths and disappearances along the Eastern Mediterranean from 2014 to 2021.
Inspired by Levi Westerveld’s Those Who Did Not Cross, each lost life is captured with its own dot, in an effort to humanize the data.
1,863 deaths and disappearances were reported along the Eastern Mediterranean between the years of 2014 and 2021.
Almost half of those recordings came from 2015 during the European migrant crisis, when a record-breaking one million people sought asylum in the EU.
About 800,000 of the one million migrants traveled to Greece through Turkey, with many of the refugees escaping Syria’s civil war.
In an attempt to control the situation, the EU and Turkey signed a migration deal in March 2016 that agreed to send back migrants who did not receive official permission to enter the EU.
Though the agreement drastically reduced the number of people traveling through Turkey to Greece, thousands still make the dangerous journey across the Aegean Sea each year. In 2021, 111 people were reported dead or missing along the Eastern Mediterranean.
According to the International Organization for Migration, the most common cause of death along the Eastern Mediterranean is drowning.
While the journey is only 5.4 nautical miles or less, transportation conditions to Greece are not always safe. Boats are sometimes forced into tumultuous waters, according to migrants who’ve experienced the journey firsthand.
And these boats are often severely underequipped and overcrowded—rubber dinghies designed to carry a dozen people are sometimes loaded with up to 60 passengers.
Safer means of transportation are available, but the costs are steep. According to Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, it could cost a family an average of €10,000 to travel by yacht.
Further complicating the dangerous journey is a lack of rescue resources.
According to a 2021 report by IOM, the EU does not currently have a dedicated search and rescue team. Instead, the onus is on individual states to patrol their own waters.
Until the crisis is better addressed or local conflicts begin to resolve, there will be an urgent need for increased rescue operations and a standardized migration protocol to help mitigate the number of migrant deaths and disappearances each year.
Scientists believe we’ve only discovered about 5% of the universe. Here’s a map of what we’ve found so far, visualized using a log scale.
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Among the scientific community, it’s widely believed that so far humans have only discovered about 5% of the universe.
Yet, despite knowing about just a fraction of what’s out there, we’ve still managed to discover galaxies billions of light-years away from Earth.
This graphic by Pablo Carlos Budassi provides a logarithmic map of the entire known universe, using data by researchers at Princeton University and updated as of May 2022.
Before diving in, it’s worth touching on a few key details about the map.
First off, it’s important to note that the celestial objects shown on this map are not shown to scale. If it was made to scale with sizes relative to how we see them from Earth, nearly all of the objects would be miniscule dots (except the Moon, the Sun, and some nebulae and galaxies).
Secondly, each object’s distance from the Earth is measured on a logarithmic scale, which increases exponentially, in order to fit in all the data.
Within our Solar System, the map’s scale spans astronomical units (AU), roughly the distance from the Earth to the Sun. Beyond, it grows to measure millions of parsecs, with each one of those equal to 3.26 light-years, or 206,000 AU.
The map highlights a number of different celestial objects, including:
Featured are some recently discovered objects, such as the most distant known galaxy to date, HD1. Scientists believe this newly-discovered galaxy was formed just ​​330 million years after the Big Bang, or roughly 8.4 billion years before Earth.
It also highlights some newly deployed spacecraft, including the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which is NASA’s latest infrared telescope, and the Tiangong Space Station, which was made by China and launched in April 2021.
Humanity has been interested in space for thousands of years, and many scientists and researchers have dedicated their lives to furthering our collective knowledge about space and the universe.
Most people are familiar with Albert Einstein and his theory of relativity, which became a cornerstone of both physics and astronomy. Another well-known scientist was Edwin Hubble, whose findings of galaxies moving away from Earth is considered to be the first observation of the universe expanding.
But the massive logarithmic map above, and any observations from Earth or probes in space, are limited in nature. The universe is currently dated to be around 13.8 billion years old, and nothing in the universe can travel faster than the speed of light.
When accounting for the expansion of the universe and observed objects moving away from us, that means that the farthest we can “see” is currently calculated at around 47.7 billion light-years. And since light takes time to travel, much of what we’re observing actually happened many millions of years ago.
But our understanding of the universe is evolving constantly with new discoveries. What will we discover next?
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