Where are the data visualization success stories?

by Enrico on April 24, 2013

in Thoughts

I see a lot of visualization around me now and I am extremely excited about it. Yet, are we making any real difference? I mean, are we having any real impact in people’s life other than telling them beautiful stories?

Yes I know, impact could be defined in a million different ways and it may be hard to capture. But why? Why I never stumble into an article or blog post showing, I don’t know, for instance, how visualization helped a group of doctors doing something remarkable with visualization?

Is it just because this stuff does not get reported or what?

Here are a few possible explanations:

  • Explanation#1: Impactful visualization is hidden. Those people who are using visualization successfully, who have a real impact, are too busy to report their success.
  • Explanation #2: Visualization is just a fragment of a much larger process. Visualization, when is not used as a communication/story telling tool is part of a much larger process, which includes many other steps and tools so simply success is not ascribed to visualization.
  • Explanation #3: Visualization impact has yet to come. Maybe we just have to wait a bit longer and we’ll get all the success we want.

What do you think? Do you have other explanations? Is my question just too pretentious? Or did I just miss a ton of success stories and this post is totally nonsense?

P.S.1 On a side note: other areas of data analysis, especially automatic approaches like machine learning and data mining have plenty of stories to tell. Why? Food for thought …

P.S. 2 After writing this post I discovered my friend Andy Kirk has written a much longer post on this issue.

  • joemako

    Data visualization makes an impact for me everyday, enabling me to see more details faster, and spotting the things that need attention quicker. To address your question, “how visualization helped a group of doctors doing something remarkable with visualization?” have you seen: http://gvi.seas.harvard.edu/paper/evaluation-artery-visualizations-heart-disease-diagnosis

  • http://blog.spaziogis.it Andrea Borruso

    Ciao Enrico,
    probably they are close to OpenData visualization success stories. I say this because I’m looking for answers to a similar question, and it is difficult.

    Best regards

  • Nick Tomczek

    Hey Enrico,

    I definitely agree with your three explanations, I also think there may be a few more.

    I wonder if the issue isn’t the definition of success in terms of data visualization. I have worked with many businesses building something that could easily be defined as “data visualizations” and I know that these have made a big impact on decision making processes and are considered successful by the data’s consumers. But I don’t consider them a success myself. I still see a lot of room for innovation and improvement.

    Another potential reason for not seeing a lot of these is that the innovation or “cool story telling” is or based on data that is inherently interesting to the business. Business may want to make sure their interesting data is kept internal.

    Lastly the idea of the “cool story” is an issue as well. I think of Hans Rosling’s TED talks. Those are some amazing visualization and tell a great story. But the subject is something that a lot of people can grasp. Being able to grasp the subject helps make the story much more interesting. I’ve worked with a lot of data and have been able to pull some stories that I found very cool but the population of people that would find those stories interesting is limited. And when my point above is taken into consideration the population that is allowed to see the story is even smaller!

    • FILWD

      Thanks Nick. Sure this adds up to my proposed explanations. Would you be able to share any of the success stories you experienced?

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