We've all heard that Big Data is the future. But that may not be quite true.

Big Data is a powerful discovery tool, empowering people to discover new insights. But without the right framework for understanding it, much of that knowledge may go unrecognized. Often, it's the role of Data Visualization that helps Big Data to unleash its true impact.

For centuries, events with global reach have inspired epic stories, massive murals, and giant sculptures. These are often designed to make a lasting impression and elevate the splendor of the figures they celebrate.

In the modern era, advances in engineering and graphic arts gave rise to a new way of telling a story: by the numbers.

And sometimes, visualizing the data revealed the hidden truth behind the splendor.

When Napoleon's Grand Army set out from Poland in 1812 with a force of nearly half a million men, the western world marveled at his audacity. When only 100,000 reached Moscow; and only 10% of those returned, Europe reeled.

Charles Joseph Minard told the terrible story of Napoleon’s Grand Army with a mastery of economy – the chart shows six types of information: geography, time, temperature, the course and direction of the army’s movement, and the number of troops remaining. In one glance, the horrible fate of over 400,000 men hits home.

Managing the massive scale of modern nations required an ever increasing amount of data, and the U.S. Census engendered a new way of seeing numbers by using maps.

The Statistical Atlas by Francis A. Walker, published in 1874 using the data from the prior 1870 Census, tabulated and mapped everything from regional climate to literacy and public health, birth rate, and ancestry.

A contemporary version demonstrates the kinds of patterns and trends that can be easily recognized by distilling and portraying a massive amount of data in a concise visual form.

Today, with innovations in digital processing, 3d rendering and animation, time-based data can be shown with greater effect than ever before.

Here, A Day in the Life of Americans:

With microdata from the American Time Use Survey from 2014, which asked thousands of people what they did during a 24-hour period, data points simulate a single day for 1,000 Americans representative of the population — right down to the minute.

At once granular and sweeping, in a few moments we can watch the morning commute, the lunch rush, and the mosaic of after-work activities like volunteering, athletics, shopping, and of course, housework.

Interactivity can take many different forms, and organizing data simply can have strikingly memorable results.

By tracking the kinds of selfies people post on social sites, gender, age, and even “smile distribution” can be mapped to show the cultural contours of global cities.

Sometimes, small differences have huge implications. The New York Times recently released a time-based graph of every medalist in the Olympic Men’s 100-Meter Sprint.

When shown against the time-compressed field of competitors from over a century, Usain Bolt's 9.63-second record comes into sharp focus.

Another example of a real-time, large-scale story which is powerful, yet otherwise invisible is the incredible amount of air traffic around our globe. This interactive visualization allows us to see not only the frequency and volume of travel to and from airports, but provides a striking visual of the divide between advanced and developing regions of the globe.

What insights about economics, international commerce, and intercultural connectedness emerge when we look at something so massive, yet so connected, all at once? That is part of the power of Data Viz.

Data Viz doesn’t have to be chock-full of animations and interactivity to have an impact. Travel on the ground is changing shape with the rise of the app-based ride service Uber. But how much? This map of the connected New York boroughs is an eye-opener, especially to taxi drivers.

And what better way to give tourists in the Big Apple a glimpse of history on the way to the best eagle-eye view in North America?

Here, time, geography, and architecture show 515 years of history in living detail as New York literally rises up from the ground.

From social media trends to public health, business to tourism, Data Viz is opening new avenues for communicating big ideas in powerful ways.


Created By
Zachary Gray

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