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Why Visualize?

Did you know that Wikipedia has at least 1.4 million articles totaling over 340 million words. That’s approximately “25 times larger than the next largest English encyclopedia, the Encyclopedia Britannica.” No matter how you slice it, that’s an impressive amount of information. What’s really scary is that is the amount of information we’re now producing and collecting is not slowing down anytime soon. While great data can make for a better customer experience, being able to categorize or make sense of it all is a growing concern.

Have no fear, visualization is here!

Creating data visualizations is a great way to help keep track, find, and categorize this missive amount of data that we are all now creating. Don’t think data visualization is worth it? Have some doubts? Well, I came across a great post by Michael Dubakov, founder of TargetProcess, that highlights several great reasons why data visualization matters.

  1. Visualizations help highlight aspects that would usually go unnoticed. Think back to the last data set you’ve dealt with. I’m sure many of you are having long, nasty excel flashbacks. When looking at large data sets it’s easy to quickly get overwhelmed and lose sight of the bigger picture. Additionally when dealing with large amounts of data, people have a difficult time picking out patterns, trends, or dependencies. Overlooking these can have potentially detrimental effects. Next time instead of trudging through large tables, try creating a quick data visualization – in this case a graph might help – and you’ll quickly be able to see what you’ve been missing.
  2. Visualizations help speed up the decision making process. A pretty bold statement, no doubt. However, just as I previously pointed out, by creating and analyzing data visualizations, you can quickly identify trends, dependencies, anomalies that otherwise may go unnoticed. By having the ability to quickly identify what is needed, it not only speeds up the decision making process, but also makes it easier for all parties involved.
  3. Data visualizations are a great way to help combat the growing volume of data. According to Dubakov, “Visualization helps leverage not only the volume, but the ever increasing diversity of data.” The beauty of data visualization is that with it, you now have a tool that allows you to take large amounts of data and make is snackable. As we continue to collect more and more information, having the tools and the ability to take it and break it down for everyone will only become more important.
  4. Lastly, visualizations are just super entertaining. No one enjoys looking at massive data sets, tables, or rows and rows of numbers. Dubakov takes it a step further by saying that he believes “Subjectively, we give more credit to information if it comes in a nice visual wrap up.” I agree. Part of a visualization’s appeal is that it is as entertaining as it is helpful and informative. Put quite simply: the more entertaining and engaging a visualization, the more time is spent analyzing the data. The more time spend analyzing the data, the more informed and better people’s decisions will be.

Still don’t think that visualizations are worth it? How about a real life example. In August of 1854 there was a sever cholera outbreak in the Soho district of London. Within a month, several hundred people perished. Unable to ascertain the cause physician, John Snow, decided to plot all the mortality stats on a map. Once completed, it became easy to identify the cause. Looking at the visualization below, we can easily see the strongest concentration of Cholera outbreaks occurred right by a water pump on Broad Street. Thanks to Snow’s visualization, the government could quickly pinpoint the cause and take necessary action. They moved to shut down the pump which shortly thereafter put an end to the epidemic.

John Snow visualization

As you can see visualizations are a great way to quickly and easily reveal hidden elements in data. Whether it’s a life and death situation like the London Cholera outbreak, or something slightly less exotic, data visualization is a helpful tool that everyone should take advantage of.

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