Data visualizations:Ever wonder what our solar system sounds like?

A great example of powerful data presentation is this interactive timeline of roadside bombs in Iraq that Al-Jazeera produced from the war logs leaked by Wikileaks.

I’ve read dozens of stories about the death toll from IED’s. I see the numbers groups like iCasualties.org release monthly. I’ve even written about them here. But when I saw Al-Jazeera’s timeline I was still surprised.

In five minutes, I saw documentation of every single IED incident. I got to see when it was, what type of explosive and exactly where it happened. Imagine how long it would take to read a story that told every IED incident in Iraq with that detail.

One of the most important things you learn in journalism is how to take large amounts of information and present them in a way for people to get the most out of them quickly. The basic concept being: Idea in my head => words are written => words are read => idea in your head.

Data visualization takes a more powerful approach. Large amounts of raw information get converted into pictures, charts, diagrams, interactive presentations – that give a somewhat immediate sense of understanding. Large amount of  raw data => Idea in my head => data visualization => immediate understanding of impact and scope of data.

Ever wonder what our solar system would sound like if we assigned a tone to each planet. Here’s an interesting graphic on planet revolutions around the sun.

Read more after the jump:

Even with the most basic headings a good visualization can show you, “This is bigger than this. Look how much bigger. Look at how many of these are here now compared to how many were here a month ago.”

A great example of this comes from InformationIsBeautiful.net – the brainchild of David McCandless. This chart, called The True Size of Africa shows that seeing data is sometimes much more effective than reading it.

Africa is big.  Africa is more than 30,000 square kilometers big. What does the mean? It means you could fit the United States, China, India and more than a dozen other countries inside of it. But would that be as easy to figure out without that handy map.

The Guardian has a whole section of its site devoted to  data visualizations as tied to current issues. They present the data in chart/picture/map form with sidebars of the stories tied to them. They even give links to download their datasets.

Maps are probably the easiest to produce and the most common, but over at Information is Beautiful you can find it all and not just about current events.

What’s the recipe for good information design. Information Is Beautiful says, some truthful, consistent, accurate and honest data, mixed with some meaningful and new information – add beauty and structure. Top with easiness, usefulness and usability.

Some good ones to check out:

1. Peak Break-Up Times on Facebook (i’m a statistic)

2. Haiti Earthquake: Who’s Given What?

3.  Drugs people overdose on vs. media coverage of drugs people overdose on

4. BBC Dimensions – I thought they would do more with this but they haven’t yet. It’s ok. I’ll wait. Its still pretty cool though. Find it here: http://howbigreally.com/

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