Data Stories: Dino Citraro of Periscopic on Data Visualization

The Periscopic team has a long-standing reputation for their excellent work in data visualizations, so we asked on of the founders, Dino Citraro, to participate in a Data Story about data visualizations. You can follow Dino on Twitter at @dinocitraro and check out their work at Periscopic.com

Dino Citraro of Periscopic

1) Periscopic’s tagline is “Do good with data”. What are some of the projects that Periscopic that embody that tagline?

We formed Periscopic with the hope that we could do good with data. To us that means helping people that share the ideals of progressive social change, sustainability, human rights, equality, environmentalism, and transparency to name a few. Most of our work enables insights and discussions in those areas. Some recent and/or notable projects are:

“VoteEasy”

VoteEasy.org is a voter education tool that was designed to allow the general public to quickly and easily see how closely political candidates align with their views on key issues. It’s like Match.com for political candidates. It utilizes thousands of hours of research and a vast collection of data assembled by the nonpartisan group, Project Vote Smart. It is the most up-to-date resource for candidate political information, including voting records, interest groups ratings, campaign finances, and personal biography.

http://www.periscopic.com/#/work/voteeasy

“The State of the Polar Bear”

The State of the Polar Bear is the authoritative source for the health and status of the world’s polar bears. This multipart datavisualization was developed through an international partnership with the Polar Bear Specialist Group, a scientific collaboration of the five polar bear nations: Canada, Denmark, Norway, the USA, and Russia. It covers data related to pollution levels, tribal hunting, and population dynamics of the bears.

http://www.periscopic.com/#/work/pbsg

“Who’s Talking About Breast Cancer”

Developed for GE’s Healthymagination data visualization forum, this tool takes a realtime look at the discussions happening on Twitter around the topic of breast cancer. Tweets from all over the world are aggregated in a single location, allowing visitors to quickly understand the current topics, trends, and stories.

http://www.periscopic.com/#/work/ge-breast-cancer

2) With infographics now being an over-hyped tool for marketing, what challenges does that create for a company actually trying to tell stories with data?

If they are done well, infographics can be a very effective story-telling device. Unfortunately, many of them seem to either lack an engaging metaphor, or don’t do a good job of letting the data be the story.  Since most of our work is interactive, we have an advantage over traditional infographics because we can reveal information in a user-directed way. The challenges we face are how to slowly introduce these stories in a way that is engaging for visitors, and not overwhelming.

3) What are the greatest opportunities right now for data visualization?

The greatest opportunities for data visualization probably relate to public data and personal data. Public data, because it has that greatest potential for good and efficiency. Personal data, because it is the thing that most people seem to find interesting. The Quantified Self movement has exploded, and along with it the desire to understand our social media behaviors, and the rise of the Quantified Social Self.

4) How do you separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to good data? 

There is no such thing as “good data”, there is only good context. You can create a compelling data visualization out of any data source, as long as you use the right context.  For instance, one of our pieces uses the gaps in the data – the lack of data – as part of the story. Our client wanted to highlight the fact that they needed to increase the data collection efforts, and wanted public support for this effort. You could have a massive data set that is impeccably organized, but without the right context, it can go unnoticed.

5) How does good visualization help create data literacy?

To us, the issue is literacy in general. Like good design, data visualizations should be transparent and unnoticed. The epiphanies one gets from interacting with data are the things that should be retained, not the fact that an interface was unique, or the interactivity was sophisticated.

Having said that, the very process of interacting with data through a visualization tool brings an understanding of what is possible, and with that, the desire increases for more, and better experiences.

Thanks to Dino for taking the time to answer some of our questions! Let us know who else you think we should interview in the comments!

Past Data Stories:

Hilary Mason, Chief Data Scientist of bitly

Blake Shaw, Data Scientist of Foursquare on product development with data science

Simon Rogers, data journalist at The Guardian 

Lada Adamic of Michigan on information networks

Mel Hogan of CU Boulder on digital archiving 

Liv Buli of Next Big Sound, the world’s first music data journalist

Sherry Emery of UIC, studying social data and smoking cessation

Annicka Campbell of SapientNitro on the Digital Love Projec

Gabriel Banos of ZauberLabs on predicting the election with social data