It really does. Of course, as a User Experience Designer for a company called Webtrends I’m a little biased. If I didn’t feel this way my boss would be worried.
But lately, geeking out over data has become more mainstream. From the New York Times’ amazing data visualization lab to Feltron’s Annual Reports, data has gotten sexy. Moreover, standards set by Stephen Few, Hans Rosling, David McCandless, and Edward Tufte have moved data visualization from skewed and sensational infographics to dynamic, data rich, and insightful imagery that gives context rather than hype.
Data allows us to see the patterns and connections that matter. And with all the data sources available to us, from public APIs to instrumentation of apps and sites, we can see more than ever. In The Petabyte Age, sensor logs, financial markets, social networks, are all generating staggering amounts of data. The ability to visualize “big data” will be key to gaining insight and meaning from it.
Think about William Playfair, the inventor of the pie chart, line chart, and bar chart. What would he do with access to something like Data.gov? How will this generation of Rosling inspired data geeks use data to solve the pressing issues of our time? It’s thrilling.
Although the power of data can be harnessed to solve pandemics and global catastrophes to demonstrate that power you need only look as far as your website. I was struck by this recently with a couple new data sources in my life.
The first is a new feature on an invite-only network for designers I belong to called Dribbble. Dribbble has been around for about a year now. It’s an easy way to put up samples of your work and get feedback. It’s more than just an image gallery, it’s a lively community of designers inspiring and challenging each other. Recently, Dribbble went pro. For $20 you get the ability to add projects, full-sized designs (400×300 is the non-pro limit), and best of all: stats on all your traffic.
These stats aren’t revolutionary by any means. The visualization consists of a line chart and some simple metrics on who is viewing what on my profile. But they are still powerful in the way they shape my interaction with the community. I get feedback on my activities. If I upload a bunch of shots, my followers increase and my views increase. The more people who follow me, the more people go to my website. By exposing data to their users Dribbble is increasing interaction with their product.
Imagine if you took your Facebook Insights and shared them with the people who use your Facebook page. If I made a comment on your wall and that increased traffic or I saw that my comment generated some buzz or was shared so many times, I might be more inclined to make another comment. If I knew who my top followers were (and yes, I know there are several borderline-spam apps that do this) I might engage more with them. Facebook provides in depth data with it’s Insight API as well as the Open Graph API. However, they really don’t put it front and center. It’s almost hidden.
As I said (channeling David McCandless), data allows us to see connections and bring meaning to our experience. Data gives us context. However, the inverse is also true. One of the reasons infographics and data visualization can be so powerful is because they bring context to data. There are people among us that can look at a table in Excel and see beautiful connections. For the rest of us it’s sometimes an exercise in will-power just to stay awake when looking at the same numbers. You can even add some bar charts or a line graph and it can still be a little boring.
The other new source of data in my life is Analytics 10. Of course, as the designer on the UX team here at Webtrends I’ve been looking at Analytics 10 for over a year now. The difference is the data. Just like our users I have been breathlessly awaiting the release of Analytics 10. I’ve been looking at demo accounts and peeking over the shoulders of our engineers for months but it just isn’t the same when it’s not your data. On Monday I could finally log in to my account and see Analytics 10.
Now, please don’t laugh at my 68 Page Views. That’s good for me. More importantly, these are my spaces. This isn’t just a readout of my web log files. The thumbnails on the screen represent my work. In most cases, a lot of work. And not to get too sappy, but some of them represent my dreams. 340 Page Views for the D-Fib app? It might seem inconsequential but it’s especially interesting to me because I submitted it to the app store over a year ago and it appeared to be a dud. But seeing some usage here and there is inspiring. Even if the dream is dead, it shows that what we did made a little splash. All those hours of work were worth it.
Thumbnails are just the beginning of the context that Analytics 10 forms. RSS feeds, posts, and notes add even more. Third Party integration provides an internet-wide level of context. Seeing all your spaces together, with all this contextual gives you a holistic view of your brand on the web.
Data really does make everything better. I think so. Go ahead, prove me wrong. Just make sure and back it up with data and context.