One of the unexpected issues of the digital era is not the unprecedented amount of information it generates, but rather how any one person can meaningfully interpret it. For businesses and website administrators, web analytics has helped group this data into basic, identifiable categories. But statistical columns and raw numbers form only the most primitive stage of information gathering. Infographics, and the realm of data visualization in general, are the tools to a much richer and far more intuitive understanding of what all this information means a�� or at least, they provide a far more compact and visually engaging method of measuring the transactions of the digital world.
As a methodology, infographics has reached a kind of uneasy puberty, experiencing irregular fits of visual growth followed by technological sulking fits. This is because the amount of data that is generated each day by websites far surpasses any one persona��s ability to read it, let alone collate it into a presentation-worthy format. Designing effective infographics therefore involves a degree of anticipation as much as it does crafting a larger, all-encompassing vision. As larger search engines develop increasingly sophisticated means of measuring web traffic, user input, and other metrics, infographics must be able to either incorporate this data or present it selectively so that the end user is not overwhelmed by gratuitous visuals.
Despite this difficulty, certain web analytics can be quickly translated into instantly viewable infographics that any member of an organization can quickly and effortlessly interpret. Trying to pinpoint where the majority of a companya��s regional IP traffic derives from, for example, is information custom made for quick, easy infographic display: a chart of the world, with percentages of IP addresses laid over each continent. This type of graphic can be quickly generated by setting up a formula that automatically converts the companya��s web analytics into graphical form. This type of infographic saves enormous amounts of time that would otherwise be spent scrolling through raw web analytics data and trying to compile the answer to a question that can be answered in seconds, using the right type of display.
In this vein, several large organizations, such as Google and the World Bank, and creative individuals, such as David McCandless, have begun to utilize the power of infographics to interpret large amounts of data. David McCandless is a freelance journalist who has received far more attention for his amazing data visualizations than for his picture-free text. By presenting military spending not as a percentage of a countrya��s GDP, but rather its population, McCandless is able to reveal unexpected realities. His work with data visualization is notable chiefly for the way in which he is able to quickly process and transform enormous amounts of otherwise staid data into vital visual displays. By comparing two seemingly disparate fields, McCandless creates a worldview that is simultaneously highly informative, shocking, and, perhaps most importantly, incredibly time efficient and fun to view.
The World Bank tends to focus on more earthy information that relates to conditions that affect every person living on Earth: poverty levels, the amount of precipitation in a given region, expected climate change over time. However, the World Banka��s ability to utilize infographics to present this information drastically cuts down on the amount of time or expertise any individual needs in order to be able to understand the information. A visitor to the World Banka��s site can quickly get a feel for the living conditions in Uganda without having ever been to the country or done much reading on the topic. It is, in a word, intuitive.
Google has recently launched a service that allows users to search for the frequency of a given word or term in published works over the last five hundred years. Dubbed a�?culturomics,a�� this service is essentially a quantitative evaluation of art, literature, science, and media. The results are displayed in Googlea��s innovative a�?one-boxa�� format. By scanning literally billions of published words in several different languages, Google has compiled a comprehensive database, a sort of web analytics for the arts. Enter in a term such as a�?fashion,a�� for example, and a chart will appear listing the frequency of the term as mapped against time. There might be a spike in 1830, and then a relatively flat period leading up to the 1920a��s, and then a resurgence. In its current form, this type of information has a limited use, but the idea of compiling massive amounts of information and then being able to perform incredibly specific searches is at the heart of infographics.
So what does this mean for business and web analytics in general? The transition from lengthy, visually unappealing sources of information, such as endless rows and columns of raw data or even unimaginative bar graphs, is gradually giving way to the far more organized and easily interpreted form of infographics. The amount of time saved in viewing basic data, along with the possibility of being able to construct far more sophisticated perspectives that could potentially allow companies to make much savvier business decisions, makes infographics the next major a�?global language.a�� Like an adolescent slowly exploring the boundaries of the world, infographics is still finding out its strengths and weaknesses. Web analytics, and information gathering in general, is poised for the next giant advancement in technology: to show us the nuances and complexities of the world we inhabit, in just a few brightly colored one-boxes.