One of my interests is how information is displayed.

It sounds a dry topic but it’s fundamental to how we can understand all the data the world is awash with and which grows at a furious pace.  A Tweet today from Jonathan Joyce (@BrianBBrian) took me to an infographic answering the question How Much Information will Human Beings Create & Store This Year?

The answer (wait for it) is 1.8 zettabytes.  And if you tell me you know how much that is you’re a better man than me, Gunga Din.  Kilobytes are history, I’ve got used to megabytes (ten a penny), felt at the cutting edge when I first acquired a computer with gigabytes of memory and now boast an external hard drive with a capacity of 1 terrabyte that cost me all of £60.

The infographic article I mention helpfully explains

 1.8 zettabytes of data…would require 57.5 billion 32 GB iPads to store. How much is that?  About $34.4 trillion worth.  That’s equivalent to the GDP of the United States, Japan, China, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Italy combined.

In other words, it’s a lot.

The infographic concept is an interesting one that’s getting applied in all sorts of ways, mainly on the web but spilling over into print media too.

In some ways it’s no more than the old idea of a diagram to explain data, something that’s been with us for centuries but limited until recently by the technology to manipulate and portray information, a technology that involved pens, ink, paper, drawing boards and a limited range of literal physical tools.

Now huge amounts of data can be combined, analysed and given visual expression, often with government data already in the public domain and using free software on the web.  If you haven’t heard the word mashup in this context you will.

It’s exciting but it’s also challenging.

That’s why I accepted an invitation from the British Urban and Regional Information Systems Association to contribute a brief article on the subject to  their latest newsletter.

I called it Data visualisation – back to basics.  Amongst other things it points out that things have changed in this area of work with

  • free web based visualisation software
  • open data – http://www.data.gov.uk alone includes 6,900+ data sets
  • creative graphic designers who previously showed little interest in this work and didn’t have the tools to realise their creativity
  • proliferation of new media
  • full colour printing as cheap as black and white.

I give examples of both traditional and more modern presentations of data that are both fundamentally flawed and conclude that we still need a balanced range of skills to understand, distil and present information

  • topic experts
  • statisticians
  • graphic designers
  • artists
  • software developers
  • webmasters, and
  • writers of plain English.

Check out the full article on my HelpGov company web site.

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