Before adding all the interaction you can imagine, think!

Andrew and Louis are two computer engineers from Minneapolis who wanted to know where their tax money went. So they collected the data and put them on WhatWePayFor.com. That are a lot of data. So now Google and art and technology center Eyebeam have created a dataviz challenge for designers to visualize how individual federal income taxes are spent by the US government.

To inspire potential participants the site offers some links to nice visualizations about the destination of tax money, including an interactive bubble chart and ditto timeline, but also an explanimation and the wonderful (but not very intuitive) tool to create a Better World Flux. Last but not least Jono Brandel from Google Creative Lab created an example visualization in HTML5 that allows American citizens to input their income and see how the government spends their dollars.

Who wants to join the competition has to know that the judges will be looking for “that wow factor, that addictive tool that shows us something we didn’t know, something that illustrates relationships, hidden stories, and simple facts in a way that is uniquely insightful to tax payers.” They will pay attention to storytelling, clarity, relevance, utility and aesthetics. There’s some controversy about the rule that the challenge only is open to “users who are physically located in the United States” but for me the most interesting part of the briefing consists of this “Note on Interactivity”:

We’re excited that the web is making it easier than ever to create interactive data visualizations, and we’re hoping that this challenge will produce some great interactive pieces. That’s why we’ve provided the API. However, before you start adding all the interaction you can imagine, think about what meaning an interaction brings to the piece and how best to convey that meaning.

(via Chart Porn)

Slick sites with sad stories

Two impressive map mashups were released this week. The Magnum Foundation unveiled a website for its Emergency Fund. It showcases the work of photographers who document social issues worldwide. The site is not quite finished. A lot of information is ‘forthcoming’ and the interface – an interactive worldmap – sometimes seems to acts on its own. But the stories that are already online definitely are worth a visit.

Products of Slavery also features a clickable worldmap. The site contains a visual inventory of more than 122 products that are produced in over 58 countries using child or forced labor. The same data is also accessible in an interactive graph and can be ordered by country or by product. Clicking on a product reveals more information and links to more sources. Just like on the Magnum site, the slick interface reveals rather sad stories.

Revealing answers instead of data

Last week I wrote about interactive modalities (clicking, hovering, dragging, etc.) and their functions. Probably the most important function of interactivity in infographics is hiding or revealing information, especially in case of multidimensional data.

But hiding information can also detach data from meaning as Kaiser Fung clearly demonstrates in Detached in time and space, a blogpost about a donut chart by Reuters on corporate sentiment in Asia. Fung also has some noteworthy suggestions to improve the graphic:

A better way to organize the chart is to start with the types of questions that the reader is likely to want to answer. Clicking on each question (say, compare ratings across industries within a country) would reveal one of the above collections of charts.

In short: try to reveal answers instead of data.

Banks that went bust

The financial crisis may be well over its peak, in the United States banks keep collapsing every month. The Wall Street Journal mapped all bank failures since January 2008. The timeline automatically starts to play as soon as the application is loaded. And although there’s some discussion about the effectiveness of animation, the boxes that appear at the end of it to explain how to manipulate the data sure add to the maps usability.

Bacon and beyond

It’s a classic in network theory. The Oracle of Bacon illustrates the small world phenomenon by showing how each actor or actress within six steps is connected to Kevin Bacon. Now the Notable Names Database does something similar for all people (well, mostly American people) who have ever been noteworthy in one way or the other. The NNDB Mapper visualizes the connections between over 37,000 more or less famous people (via).

Ranking the nations

The best country to live in is Finland. Newsweek created an interactive to compare the worlds top 100 nations on topics like health, education and economy. It’s a nice looking flash-app, but you can only compare two countries at a time. If you like to compare more – or you happen to live in one of the 90+ countries that are not in the list – you may be more interested in the website of the World Economic Forum. There you can create your own visualizations based on the results of the Global Competitiveness Report 2010-2011. A lot of data, very interactive, but not what you would call eye candy. Next year the WEF would be wise to hire Roland Loesslein who did a nice job on the United Nations Human Development Reports.