Data Vis Diary: Words, words, words

I discovered Google’s ngrams last week through my data vis class. Basically, the Google Books project digitized millions of books and scanned all of the words, amassing a giant database of billions of the words published in the past 200 years. What’s really cool is that Google has built an online viewing tool that you can use to graph the frequency of any word that you are interested in, over any time period in the last 200 years. The results look like this:

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Data Visualization Diary: Magazine Sales

(First post in my Data Visualization Diary series, where I explore a data set, try to find the interesting stories that the data contains, and practice techniques for using images to communicate the stories that the data has to tell. Through these experiments, I hope to learn what visuals work well, and which fail to communicate in an interesting, efficient, and understandable way. Comments and suggestions welcome)

Today, I picked a data set that journalists everywhere might find interesting. The 6 month data on magazine subscription and single issue sales were released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Only the data for the top 25 magazines in each sales category, circulation and single issue, were released online. You can see the data I started with on their website, here.

So, the first thing I noticed, looking at the data, is that subscription sales are much higher than single issue sales. Also, for the most part, different magazines made the top 25 in each category. Only 7 magazines made the top 25 in both categories:

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Data Journalism Calling My Name?

View from Hubble Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team

The past few weeks, it seems like the universe has been trying to tell me something. Something besides the fact that I needed more sleep and more interviews with nuclear scientists, which was pretty obvious.  No, I believe that the universe is trying to point me into data journalism.  Here’s the evidence:

1. John Keefe, the newly minted “Data News and Technology” chief at WNYC came to talk to my class about using data for both finding and enhancing stories.  He talked about the free online tools, like google fusion tables and map builders that allow even beginners to present data on top of google maps to convey all kinds of information, from political donations across the city to snow-plowed streets. It’s amazing how fast you can build a map with these tools, compared to the complexity of the ArcGIS programs I am used to making maps with. John believes in showing his work, and on his website,, he explains how he made some of his coolest maps.  Continue reading