One thing I don’t like about statistics is the way they usually look—a list or row or jumble of numbers that just sit on the page in black and white. Of course, there are line graphs and bar graphs and pie charts, but those can only punch the data up so much.
What I need are statistics presented in ways that grab my attention and that help me understand complicated ideas. What I need are number crunchers and artists working together to get a point across. What I need are people like Amanda Cox, a statistician and graphics editor for the New York Times, who told Scott Berinato of the Harvard Business Review,
There’s a strand of the data viz world that argues that everything could be a bar chart. That’s possibly true but also possibly a world without joy.
What I need—and what I found—are the following five sites that take global statistics and get them to stand up and jump off the page. Some combine the data in interesting ways. Some use eye-catching graphics. Some use video to show movement across time. And some let the numbers grow before your eyes.
Here they are. They’re in no particular order, except I’m starting with FlowingData because that’s where I found the above quotation from Amanda Cox.
1 – FlowingData
Nathan Yao’s blog helps us understand data by visualizing data. It’s not all about global statistics, but scrolling through the posts—and getting sidetracked a time or two—is well worth the effort. As an example of the range you’ll find, there’s “A Visual Exploration of Refugee Migrations,” “Average Man Graphic Renderings,”and a mockup of how big a single iPhone screen would be if all the iPhone screens in the world were put together. And Yao’s also created the “World Progress Report,” an infographic with data culled from UNdata’s 60 million records.
2 – Gapminder
Swedish global health expert, Hans Rosling, has an infectious enthusiasm for statistics. You can see it in the site for his Gapminder Foundation, in the Trendalyzer software the foundation developed “to unveil the beauty of statistical time series by converting boring numbers into enjoyable, animated and interactive graphics,” and in Gapminder World, which shows the software in action in over 20 amazing graphs. You can see it, too, in Rosling himself, with this cool demonstration of how he brings statistics to life, “200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes”:
Rosling, like Cox, is a proponent of the “joy” that can be found in statistics. For proof, watch his entire hour-long documentary on line. The video above is only a short clip from it. It’s entitled, appropriately, “The Joy of Stats.”
3 – NationMaster
Not just a great go-to site for world statistics, it slices, dices, crunches, and expands data from around the globe. It gives you the ability to create maps and graphs that compare countries in a number of categories, such as education, crime, and health, but it doesn’t stop there. You can also hit the “correlate” link to see the relationships between different statistics and how they might affect each other. Bet you didn’t know that the number of judges and magistrates in Russia is nearly twice the number in the United States. The US, on the other hand, has eight times the amount of crime.
And for a new way to see the world, take a look at NationMaster’s graphs that cluster countries based on their similarities in a number of categories.
4 – Worldometers
With Worldometers, you can watch the numbers grow in real time. Its site has 61 counters on such global topics as population, televisions sold, emails sent, amount of oil remaining, and deaths by cancer. For more info on cyber statistics, go to its Internet Live Stats page. There you can also see a graphical representation of the huge numbers, but no picture is bigger than the one at 7billionworld, where all 7 billion of the world’s population is shown one by one on a single scrollable page.
5 – Poodwaddle World Clock
The World Clock applet at Poodwaddle ups the ante with over 170 real-time counters in nine categories, including one titled “Smile: It ain’t all bad news.” There are so many counters, accessible for the year, month, day, and “now.” And if you’d like your data even more available, you can embed the free World Clock widget on your own website or blog. That way you can keep track of how many Coca-Cola products have been consumed this year. (Hint: It’s at a rate of 1.9 billion servings a day.)
(Scott Berinato, “The Power of Visualization’s ‘Aha!’ Moments,” the Harvard Business Review, March 19, 2013)
[photo: “Pie Chart,” by John Cooper, used under a Creative Commons license]