ThimphuTech was the first technology blog in Bhutan. We started writing it in 2009, just as broadband and mobile internet started to take off. (Although internet in Bhutan was launched in 1999, it was either super-slow or super-expensive, and was only used by a selected few).

In the blog, we wrote about technology and food, but also about plenty of other stuff. The blog became popular and influential in Bhutan. A companion bi-weekly column -- Ask Boaz -- was published for many years in the Kuensel, Bhutan's national newspaper. (The complete Kuensel columns are available as an ebook, Blogging with Dragons).

We stopped updating the blog when we left Bhutan in 2014, but the information within the posts can still prove useful, and thus we decided to keep it online.

We thank all our readers.
Tashi Delek,
Boaz & Galit.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Rupee Crunch or Chart Crunch?

Today's Kuensel front page article "Self-sufficiency through commercialization"presents a large chart displaying the breakdown of different imported food product categories in 2011. While the chart is colorful and eye-catching, it does not convey the data or the story effectively. Why do I claim that it is ineffective? Try answering the following questions:

  1. Which food category was imported the least in 2011? (in terms of Rs.)
  2. Which was the second highest import category?
  3. Sugar imports differed from Vegetables, fruits and nuts by what amount?

How many did answers you get right the first time? How long did it take to answer each of these questions? These are measures of effectiveness. 

Now try answering the same questions with the following chart:

What makes the chart that I created more effective than Kuensel's fancy chart? Here are a few differences:
  • Pie charts are ineffective charts, because our brain and eye can easily compare differences in length or height, but not slices of pizza.
  • The "fancy" chart attracts too much attention to non-information compared to information, while the effective chart is focused on the information. Effects such as 3D, a plate with texture in the background, lots of color are all distractions from the information about amount of import of different food product categories.
  • Are the decimal digits really needed in Kuensel' s chart? (118.43M or just 118M?) And if so, then one or two decimals?

These are just a few issues that need to be considered when communicating data. The NY Times, Washington Post and other top media houses have already embraced effective visualization, as well as online sharing of charts and dashboards. The upcoming 2-day workshop Effective Data Presentation is a great way to learn about such practices and to gain experience in creating effective charts and interactive dashboards. Journalists and other media people are encouraged to join!

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