Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Animating the data and better "story telling"

One of the challenges with talking about and presenting any analysis about data mining or statistics is that a lay audience is seldom excited by the same things as a more technical audience. A technical audience is as interested in how the answer was reached as much as the answer itself. A non-technical consumer of the same information is probably interested in the implications of the answer as well as the answer itself, with some gut-check to make sure that the process wasn't totally crazy. In other words, they are looking for a story.

Recent trends around the pervasiveness of data and data-driven applications has meant that there is a greater ask from data scientists to tell a compelling "story" to support their analysis. Data scientists need to come up with ways that tell the story behind the data and the projections of the model that may have used the data as input, that are insight generating, that skip some of the unnecessary detail and also paint the various facets of the final solution. And not just tell the final answer. Data animation and data visualization are some of the answers here.

I came across a couple of good examples of such animation recently. Hans Rosling made an interesting presentation about a tool called Gapminder at TED.com. The presentation is here. Gapminder is an organization that makes social, environmental and economic development data from all the countries of the world available and accessible to all, for free. The visualization tool at Gapminder called Gapminder World shows ways in which this data can be animated and made come alive for the non-technical consumer in illuminating and exciting ways.

Rosling made another trailer presentation recently from a BBC 4 program promo called "The Joy Of Stats". (Link is here if the embed doesn't work.). One hopes that this program airs sometime in the US. It is due to air on Dec 7 and 8 in the UK. Any UK readers of the blog are encouraged to go and check the program and share what they felt about it. The content of the program (Link and timings here) sounds interesting enough for me to at least contemplate taking a flight to London and catching the program on the Beeb.