Friday, February 1, 2008

Gapminder visualizes important statistics

I found a very cool web site for a Swedish non-profit foundation called Gapminder. The foundation is concerned with "promoting sustainable global development and achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals by increased use and understanding of statistics and other information about social, economic and environmental development at local, national and global levels." [emphasis mine]

They've developed an awesome way to visualize statistics through a system they call Trendalyzer. Trendalyzer "unveils the beauty of statistical time series by converting boring numbers into enjoyable, animated and interactive graphics." To really appreciate it, you need to see it in action, but I'll try to describe it:

They create an x-y plot of some variables, say life expectancy vs. per capita income, and plot the data for several countries around the world. Then, they want to show 2 additional variables: population and time. They visualize the population of each country by changing the plot point size from a single point to a circle proportional to the population of the corresponding country. You can see that in the snapshot included above. To show how the data change across time (time-series), they use animation with the circles move around the graph as time changes. The value of the time variable (usually the year) is shown in a watermark behind the graph. You can see that it's 2004 in the snapshot.

They have several video lectures and GapCasts that show some important trends in world issues including poverty, maternal mortality and access to public services. I highly recommend taking to the time to see these presentations. The content is eye-opening and the visual use of statistics is very original.

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