Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Data Visualization

Just finished reading “Envisioning Information, The visual Display of Quantitative Information”, from Edward Tufte (first edition I just realized, got to check the second edition!)

Tufte shows how information can be condensed, transformed, made visible.
From 3D environment to 2D picture, from n-dimensional arrays to 2 dimensional maps, envisioning the other dimensions becomes a crucial task for designers.

The book

It is a book full of wonderful maps and graphics showing different, unique ways to visualize data. The chapter titles are an indicator of the main categories:
  1. escaping flatland
  2. micro/macro readings
  3. layering and separation
  4. small multiples
  5. color and information
  6. narratives of space and time.
From complex train schedules from espionage to regular maps, from lists to dance pattern manuals, Tufte picked a wide variety to show what is possible in envisioning quantitative data.


I am missing some digital information, some more technical displays. How about oscillation, how about the interactive displays with mouse overs on the net or with flash? Might be difficult to show in a book, but this is a strong limitation. Would be great if there could be an "interactive 2 D envisioning" addendum on the net to this book.

Application in Web Analytics

Sure, I had quite some ideas how this could be used for web graphics and especially for the display of data in web analytics.

Just one example. Why not make a real map out of the sitemap?
  • map=sitemap
  • country=pages
  • rivers=paths
  • hight=pageviews
  • population=conversion
There are quite some analogies and it might be helpful to users to depict it in a pattern each of us learned to read in school. On top, it might give us insight into patterns we cannot see looking at plain 2D maps or data tables.

The book:

Tufte, Edward R., Envisioning Information, subtitle The visual Display of Qantitative Information, 1990. More details and some pictures from inside from the author.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Google Analytics (GA) Improvement Idea

One of the ultimate questions web analytics is supposed to answer is ‘what do I have to do to earn as much as possible with my site’, or close to that. This is a possible, viable outcome of e-commerce and shop analytics already. I have not seen or read about similar clear results for non-shopping sites.

Cause and Effect

For information, entertainment and brand sites the most important step is to simply (Hah!) connect what happens on the web with what happens on the site in a cause-effect relation.

Combine Calendar with Analytics Reports

So I asked our team to key in major site updates and PR releases into a Google calendar (many freelancers). Then, when checking the reports, we could compare these calendars with what happened on site and were able to connect some movements with a likely cause. Sometimes this was very clear, sometimes more vague. Especially on sites offering high value services or products where a direct connect from campaign to sales is not possible, there are many other things to factor in and from offer to contract can take more than half a year.

Still the calendars were a great way to start thinking about cause and effect. Just knowing, remembering what happened in a 300 project per year environment helped to distinguish between seasonal changes and campaign effects.

Google Analytics (GA) Improvement Idea

Now we just need GA to integrate that calendar into the GA view. As a first step, just a very plain view would be helpful like in the screen.

Later on, it might be great to be able to add some more data like budget or estimated traffic into the calendar, and get some calculations back with analytics. Best would be if GA could find connections between calendar events and site effects by itself!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Everyone is meeting

Don't you? Some weeks only leave one morning hour for the early bird and one very late hour to do some hands-down work. Meeting is important, but most meetings are not. Many do not have a clear purpose like presentation, mutual information, decision preparation, decision making. So we meet and meet and chit and chat and hurry from one to the next – but who is going to do the work?

Who then does the work?
Sometimes I just have to sit down and work, write, read, structure, whatever, and no meeting will help out of that, just the opposite.When do people prepare meetings, when do the follow up? If everyone is expecting someone else doing the work, then it just moves around without actually being done.

Some companies and people just have a bad meeting-gitis, I think.

Important meetings
And then again, some meetings are very important and helpful, and according to my line of business, sometimes there are quite some of them. The meetings I could - and actually do - spare are the meetings to keep a huge number of people up to date who are in a project. The communication flow and the process owners are not always clear, and then everyone tries to get information from anyone else. . . in meetings, killing the last of the information flow :-)

Meeting or not?
So I try to limit meetings and decide on this first:

  1. What needs to be done, information, discussion or decision?
  2. Who needs to be in this action?
  3. Is there a timeframe for decision, info, discussion?
  4. What is best for the personalities participating?
  5. What helps this action best, meeting, email, several 1 on 1’s?

Go to a meeting or not?
And for my attendance I just ask myself, if I need to
  • meet a person (relationship)
  • be seen (politics)
  • ask something
  • explain a position
or if I would be fine just going through the minutes (which I regularly do, they are a great tool for many reasons).

Here’s a nice book on meetings for the ones among you speaking some German: ‘Sitzungen erfolgreich managen, Meetings als Kommunikationsmittel und Management-Instrument richtig nutzen’, Herman Blom, Beltz 1999.

(BTW, I did some multi-party meeting moderation some years ago, and it really helps to know about how meetings work and the various roles people can take.)
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