OK sports are great for the fact that they are a statisticians dream, so many numbers, so many angles, who could blame them. I just came across this impressive set of graphs in the Washington Post that depict the NBA finals this year, where the Miami Heat are struggling against the Mavericks despite the fact that they seem to have a dream roster. The large graphs depict the flow of the game through the 4 quarters showing the total points per team, time that the teams led during the game, and final score. Directly under each of the graphs you see 4 bar charts that represent each quarter and display the minutes that each team led, and finally under the bar charts is a pie chart that shows the total minutes that each team led during the game. This is an excellent example of an executive dashboard, and turning mundane statistics into information.
More on visual information can be found here at Edward Tufte’s (created the march on Russia ) website http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/. The speaker does a great job of conveying the importance of visual displays of data, and we already know that we are overloaded with raw data. But just how do we build those graphical widgets into our websites, apps, or presentations? Luckily there are several charting packages that are available such as http://code.google.com/apis/charttools/ that allow us to connect backend data sources to a clean display. There is however a down side to all of this, which is the fact that we still need to know what types of displays are better for certain types of data which is where the presentation above comes into play. Some of the lesser known charts that come to mind after watching the presentation include:
This is a great way to show several data points over time, such as the example below that shows the entire 2009 Atlanta Braves season, where red lines denote a loss and black lines denote a win.
This type of graph shows categories in a box where the size is indicative of the relative importance in relation to the category or group of data that is being viewed. For example, the chart below shows the most popular (measured by book sales) programming languages of 2007 .
This is an extremely interesting data tool that is open for all to use (and explore at http://www.gapminder.org/). The speech goes to show that views are often formed early in life and stay that way despite the constant change that takes place around us. The term ‘conventional wisdom’ was coined years ago to describe an idea or set of beliefs that was accepted by most and was often predictable, for example, we all thought the world was flat at some time. The problem with conventional wisdom today is that we are inundated with data and finally, we are seeing tools being built that will visually display that data so that it can be understood in the context of the larger picture. This will in turn challenge our long standing beliefs, and shape the way that the next generation views the world.
So how can you turn your internal datasets into valuable insight?
There are also some tools coming out of Microsoft Labs that will take excel spreadsheet like data sets and display them in a manner that is similar to the display featured in the video above. If you want to know more or try your hand at creating a simple data visualization navigate to http://www.getpivot.com/