Where Africa and Technology Collide!

Visualizing Data, Making it Accessible

If you get me in a room and we start talking about data, please forgive me if my eyes light up. You see, I confess to a certain amount of data-lust. Primarily because I believe that data is at the core of most great web applications. Secondarily, because I’m enthralled with how to move this data from a list of tables and spreadsheets and make it become real and understandable to anyone at a glance.

I wrote a post about African TLDs (the suffix that country domain names go by) a couple months back. Then, today I came across this visualization in a poster of the world of country TLDs. Simple, interesting and useful.

A map of country Top Level Domains (TLD)
(You can buy this as a print at HistoryShots.com for $29)

Using graphics to represent data is nothing new, however, doing it well isn’t easy. The moment this became crystal clear to me was when I had the opportunity to listen to the incomparable Jeffrey Veen (before he left Adaptive Path for Google) discuss how to visualize rainfall data – going from database to consumer visualization. The main slides are seen below:

Visualizing Data - by Jeff Veen

(It’s not nearly as good without his oratory, but you can see the Next Gen slideshow here)

There are now a number of excellent blogs, agencies and consultants who deal with this stuff every day. If you’re as interested in this as I am, you might enjoy these resources:


  1. Thanks for this post. Really timely and useful. I’ve been looking for ways to visualise some survey data I’ve got to analyse this week (I can’t stand looking at another graph from MS Excel) and so I shall have an explore of some of the visualisations you point to here.

    I’ve certainly found the role of visualisation in finding new ways to think about and interrogate data to be very useful indeed.

  2. Hey Erik!

    I’m not quite as excited by data as you seem to be, but the timing of your Blog post follows on neatly from an email I got in the week from some friends at Tactical Tech (I’ve been helping them develop a Mobile Advocacy Toolkit).

    In another project, they’ve just released “Visualizing Information: An Introduction to Information Design”. According to the guide, “Modern life is saturated with ever increasing amounts of information, advertising and media with little time to digest what is being said. Against this background, NGOs and advocates too often find the information they want to communicate, either buried in long reports full of professional jargon and statistics, or overlooked in an endless stream of media releases.”

    Basically, ‘Visualizing Information for Advocacy: An Introduction to Information Design’ is a manual aimed at helping NGOs and advocates strengthen their campaigns and projects through communicating vital information with greater impact. This project aims to raise awareness, introduce concepts, and promote good practice in information design รขโ‚ฌโ€œ a powerful tool for advocacy, outreach, research, organization and education.

    You can read more and download a PDF version from http://www.tacticaltech.org/infodesign

    You probably know it all already, though. ;o)



  3. speaking of resources, i think you might also enjoy my blog too, FlowingData, which naturally covers all things data, but more specifically, data visualization ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Hey Hash,

    I see I’m not alone in having an interest in visualizing data. Hands down one of the best resources are the books by a guy called Edward Tufte. Have a look and let me know what you think

  5. Hi Hash

    I’ll admit I feel the same way as you do here – mainly your second point on making it real and understandable. Thanks for this info, it will be great to have a look at!

  6. Great post Hash, awesome read

  7. Wow. data super cool.

    I was wondering if anyone has every done a visual representation of the Kenyan blogosphere. I’m working on some applied math geeks from MIT on some Social Network Analysis work, and though the Kenyan blogosphere would be a great data set to work with (and maybe useful for our Berkman case study)

  8. @Ken – Great links for Tactical Tech. I remember hearing about one of those booklets coming out while in Istanbul, but had forgotten already… Anyway, I’ve added a link to their site and am perusing the advocacy booklet now. Very cool stuff!

    @Nathan, I’ve added your blog to the resource list. I spent way to long on it yesterday reading all your analysis and enjoying the visuals. Keep it up!

    @M – I’m going to have to look up this Edward Tufte fellow. Thanks for the name. By the way, I’m not coming to Nairobi again without meeting you in person… ๐Ÿ™‚

    @Josh – I think that’s an excellent idea. The Kenyan blogosphere would be an excellent place to start. Once all of the data is aggregated on blog, bloggers, tags, etc. you could do some really neat things. Not sure Harvard or MIT need any of my help, but would love to be part of any such project.

  9. Hi Hash – really enjoyed your post.

    In the same vein check out this trend graph for the polls on Obama vs. Hillary vs. Edwards — you will find it very interesting.


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