Data visualization: Is a picture worth a thousand words or a wasteful effort?

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

That’s why ‘Data Visualization‘ was born.

Actually, I’m a big fan of data visualization. Without this beautiful infographic, I will never understand how a car engine work(lol).

how-care-engine-works infographic

However, the way we are praising data visualization is somewhat pompous. It makes us completely blind to the risks of visualized data.

Data misinterpretation

In a study about graphic representations of information, Bresciani and Eppler conclude that there are three potential risks inherent in visualization:

De-focused: When creating a graphic, it can be tempting to focus more on the layout than on function. Be careful! Too many unnecessary ornaments or too many unrelated elements emphasized at the same time can distract audiences. They don’t know where to to focus, thus get completely confused about the graphic.

Disturbing: Some images can shock or upset the viewers. This echoes with the findings from Seeing Data project, a research conducted by data visualization expert Andy Kirk. Andy indicates that although the viewers tend to not exactly remember the data from the graphics, they could remember the overall impressions, and, significantly, the emotions that the graphics evoked. Therefore, designers need to pay careful attention to the emotional aspect of graphics because this can affect the way the audiences interpret data through visualizations.

Cultural and cross-cultural differences. Because of the heterogeneity of audiences, some graphic representations may be misinterpreted. For example, Western viewers tend to focus on the foreground, while east-Asian audiences focus on the whole picture and the background. Color meaning also varies in different cultures. Thus, designers need to consider cultural elements, especially when creating visualizations for cross-cultural audiences.

The rise of lazy audiences

We need to do infographics because our audiences become so lazy. Reading data is more work than their lazy brands want to do. This makes me upset thinking of infographic and all kinds of data visualizations.

Data journalist’s role is to access and present the data on the public’s behalf. However, it is public’s responsibility to analyze and draw understanding from data themselves.

If someone is interested in a specific topic, he/she will give the most effort to consume a whole load of information. If they think this kind of knowledge is too boring and useless for them, then creating an infographic to help them understand that topic is just a waste of time. What for?

We tend to think data visualization is trendy. But why we need to make that fancy animated infographic just to explain how to eat an artichoke (lol).


Again, I love data visualization. However, data visualization sometimes can make audiences confused about the content rather than making it easier for them to consume the data. Moreover, as media professionals, we need to consider carefully when data visualization should be used and how. It’s a waste of time and effort to follow the graphic trend without a clear purpose.





The emptiness of Data Journalism

Data Journalism is a new trend of storytelling. Here, traditional journalistic methods are combined with data analysis, programming, and visualization techniques to create readable and interesting news stories. Some rock stars of this new trend include The Upshot of The new York Times, DataPoint of The Sydney Morning Heralds, The Guardian and The Vox.

However, not every journalist knows how to utilize the potentials of Data Journalism.


This is my favorite illustration! Thanks, Barry Blitt!

Every day when browsing through news on the internet, have you ever felt that, somehow, they are all the same? If journalists simply think of data journalism as a process of shuffling mountain of data and putting together a readable summary, then it’s easy to understand why we have to read hundreds of identical news every day. It’s all aggregation!

Many fans of data journalism believe that the data will show us all. And their mission is trying to answer every question using data, not anecdote. However, sometimes what the data tells us is biased rather than objective. In his article, Michael Kinsley argues that the nature of life is complicated and motives can be subtle.

If all data point to the conclusion that the earth is square, then will you say so in your article? The story of Nate Silver may make you rethink of this.

Nate Silver is one of the most famous data journalists in the US. He is also the founder of FiveThirtyEight website, which he describes as a regime of data journalism. Silver has been criticizing the value of traditional newspaper and television. And he honors only investigative journalism and data journalism. Given his data analysis, Nate Silver was down on Trump’s prospects throughout the US election. He even gave Hillary Clinton a 71.4 percent chance of beating Trump. That’s why many old-school journalists can’t wait to laugh at him after Trump’s victory.

Data journalism hillary

Talking about Silver’s failure, Timess media columnist, Jim Rutenberg concludes that “a good place to start would be to get a good night’s sleep, and then talk to some voters.”

And I totally agree with him.

Up with the facts! Down with the cult of facts!

Quantitative data should be an aid to journalistic practices, but it shouldn’t be a replacement for traditional journalistic methods. Such measurements are appropriate to some particular subjects. However, the assumption that it is appropriate to all subjects is not at all adequate. There is no numerical answer to the question of who deserve to receive food relief from the government, or whether gay marriage is acceptable. Interviews, opinion columns and all kinds of journalistic commentary need to be given equal honor to vary the voices and pave way for a free society.

Network Effects – A case study of ISIS

This week, I read this great article “Why ISIS is winning in the social media war”. And I think this is a great example of the network effects and how these impact the dissemination of ideas in the digital age.

Did you know: More than 30,000 people around the world have turned their backs on everything and travel thousands of miles to Syria or Iraq, where they were told a paradise awaits? Many people seduced by ISIS’s ideology are willing to die under the Islamic State’s name.

How did ISIS magically cultivate its ghastly brand and ideology in the hearts of potential recruits who even live in the US or Europe? This is what all media professionals wish they could do with their target audience.

How the magic happens?

I was still confused about those things until I read this article and The Diffusion of Innovative Theory this week.

ISIS has been so successful in using network effects and social media to spread its idea among internet users and rouse followers that al Qaeda could never reach. ISIS has clearly targeted specific Muslim enclaves throughout the world and defined who are the ‘opinion leaders’, ‘change agent’ and ‘adopters’ within those communities. Given the understanding of how these networks operate, ISIS, then, creates varied content that caters to niche audiences and facilitates the adoption of its ideology among those groups. This is explained in this great video!

These are examples how ISIS’s message has found a foothold among people who are struggling with their own idiosyncrasy within the US society. ISIS brand has become so ubiquitous. It has transformed into something like an open platform, upon which the desperate and deluded are connected and encouraged to contribute personal narratives of persecution.

ISIS is a great case study in terms of employing network effects to influence customers’ attitudes and behaviors.

Network Visualization

Nowadays, advances in technology make it easier for us as media professionals to analyze and exploit network effects by network visualization softwares. Network visualization helps us effectively navigate thought leaders and understand customer social influence. Thus, we can identify the dissemination of news around networks of people to make fast and cost-effective decisions.


Is there any risk using network visualization?

In a study about network analysis, McGrath and his colleagues conclude that care should be taken when using visual representations of networks. Varied graph layouts alter our judgment about the most prominent nodes within the networks, thus give us misconception about the network’s structure.

Despite all the pros and cons, I believe it’s worth for us as media professionals to explore and conquer the implementation of network visualization if we want our integrated marketing communication campaign to be as successful as ISIS’s.

Audience Segmentation: Is it always Ethical?

This week, we talk about Digital Audience and one of the topics under this umbrella is Audience Segmentation.

The rise of social media has equipped us more powerful tools to target audiences. Nowadays, advertisers can use paid targeting options from social media to effectively deliver their ads to the most potential consumers. For example, Facebook provides a service which let companies target their advertisements to users based on data such as user demographics, interests and geographical locations.

However, is this practice always ethical?

To achieve sales goals, many businesses have turned audience segmentation into an unethical practice. This is described in the book “Fear of Audience Segmentation” as the “exploitation of vulnerable populations“, including consumers who have psychological problems or lack the intelligence to make informed purchases.

In a study, Sharon Beder explains how children are exploited on the internet. Beder accuses advertisers of stealing personal information by asking the kids to fill online surveys before they can play games or offering prizes to attract them. Through these activities, advertisers gather information about children’s purchase behaviors, preferences and even ask for personal information of their family’s members. Advertisers then use this information to design individualized messages and advertisements.

Parents, please take care of your kids!


One clear example of such unethical practice can be drawn from ad agency Saatchi and Saatchi’s advertisement about their Kid Connection Service:

We at KID CONNECTION are committed to understanding kids: their motivations, their feelings, and their influences. In keeping with our mission to connect our clients to the kid market with programs that match our clients’ business objectives with the needs, drives and desires of kids…Interactive technology is at the forefront of kid culture, allowing us to enter into contemporary kid life and communicate with them in an environment they call their own.

Can you believe it? It is shameless!

Social media and digital platforms have given us powerful tools to effectively target audiences for our advertising or public relations campaign. However, to do it in an ethical way requires us to consider customers’ benefits as equal as our companies’.

Do not let money blind your mind!

How Competition Is Shaped in The Age of Platforms?

social media news feed.jpg

In the 21st century, we have witnessed the rapid rise of digital readership. This leads to the struggling of media in the competition with news platforms. However, even news platform also has to fight for their position in the media industry.

Professor Geoffrey Parker, co-author of the book “Platform Revolution” says Platforms don’t shake up markets and incumbent businesses only. They change the very nature of competition.

What are the new types of competition in the age of platforms?


“It’s like three-dimensional chess.”, says professor Parker.

First, one digital platform fights against another. For example, Facebook competes with Snapchat in terms of news distribution.

Second, a platform competes directly with its own partners. For example, when Tiki, a Vietnam-based online shopping platform, sells its self-made office items, which are also sold by its partner merchants.

Third, two distinct news publishers compete against each other within a platform ecosystem. For example, BBC and CNN fight for a spot in the Snapchat Discover section.

In this fierce race, competitors arm with their own strategies.

Platforms recognize “multi-homing” (one same content posted on various platforms) as a risk. They impede this practice by encouraging loyalty as well as creating barriers and penalties. In his article, Grzegorz Piechota lists out some clear examples. Facebook signed 140 contracts with video producers, including CNN, BuzzFeed, and Vox Media, to guarantee their commitment. Snapchat once banned Yahoo from its Discover section because Yahoo’s news broadcast was old-fashioned and not appealing to Snapchat’s audience. News publishers must follow platforms’ rules if they want to be a part of the joint venture. Platforms, then, can enhance their competitive advantages over competitors.

News Publishers consider collaborating with various social media platforms is both an investment and an insurance policy. This strategy helps them to engage with a wider range of audiences, which, in turn, becomes their competitive advantages.

A Symbiosis Relationship


Although the competition is fiercer than ever, I believe the normative relationship between news platforms and media outlets should be a ‘Symbiosis‘ or Collaboration.

What media outlets need to consider when joining this symbiosis relationship is not to lose control over their own business. Sangeet Paul Choudary, CEO of Platform Strategy Labs suggests ways for media outlet to protect themselves when working with platforms.

  • Publishers should ensure the right to access to data about user interaction with their content on the platforms.
  • Publishers need to ensure that they can engage and build a strong relationship with their readers through that platform.
  • Think of the scenario whether the platform can exploit the data collected from user interaction with publishers’ content for their own purposes and be careful.

Learn the rules of the game, then play better than anyone else! That’s the way we fight off all competitions!

Social Media – A Modern Culture of Insults?

This week, we discuss the history of the Internet, including its birth and development. In this entry, I want to narrow the topic and focus on how social media, one of the significant developments of the Internet, creates the Online Insult Culture. 

Have you ever burst into tears reading comments on your Facebook?

Have you ever want to kill the guy that call you a b*tch but you don’t know who he/she is because they use a fake account?

Or how did Hillary feel when she read this?

Trump Insult Hillary

Bekah Grant, a former writer at VentureBeat, confessed that one day, her mother read a comment calling Bekah a ‘moron’ and she was really upset. Bekah and her colleagues are so scared of “mean, unproductive, and demoralizing” comments from readers that they have to avoid reading them. Finally, Bekah quit her job at VentureBeat because she couldn’t stand it anymore.

What happened with the Internet?

Half of a century ago, the Internet was invented as a means of boosting the free flow of information, resource sharing and communication.

Nowadays, the Internet has a new ability to release our darkest side. Many people treat social media as channels to unleash their hidden loathing of humanity.


internel trolls

In his article, Paul Blanchard argues that social media lets us insult to a wider audience. It bores to sit in your room yelling alone. Now people have tools to immediately show their frustration to a vast audience who would laugh, like, share their insults or even insult them back.

We don’t have to worry anything when insulting people on social media. Anonymity, invisibility and lack of authority turn social media into insult heaven. Psychologists call this the “online disinhibition effect”.

A Pew Research Center survey published in 2014 found that 70% of 18-to-24-year-olds Internet users had experienced harassment.

In 2010, 13-year-old Hope Sitwell hanged herself because she couldn’t stand the online insults after a compromising picture of hers that she “sexted” to her boyfriend was shared.

On September 22, 2010, Tyler Clementi committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. He found from his room mate’s Twitter feed that he had become “a topic of ridicule” after people had known that he was gay.

And if you are still confused about the Insult Culture created by social media, watch the movie “Friend request”. It will tell you how insult on social media can kill a person.

We have enjoyed numerous benefits from the evolution of the Internet since its very first beginning. However, we can’t deny how the internet and social media is ruining our life.

Stop letting the Online Insult Culture killing our soul!

Crowdfunding – Could it be a “lifeboat” for Investigative Journalism in Vietnam?

This week, we discuss how technology changes news business models in terms of funding. This inspires me to think of crowdfunding as a solution to funding investigative journalism in Vietnam.


I’ve been a journalist for 4 years in Vietnam. And do you know what makes me mad? It is when we find out the government is doing something wrong. (And this happens all the time).  We meet our boss and say our newspaper needs to investigate those issues. Their mind goes blank and they shout “No”.

In Vietnam, journalists have to face with heavy-handed censorship. And because every press agencies are state owned, journalism cannot say anything against the government. Investigative journalists in my country are struggling to find both funding and distribution channels. Could we break this impasse?


David Appel, a freelance reporter, succeeded in raising fund for his investigative weblog. His project, then, reveals that sugar companies tried to lobby the Congress to stop funding WHO because WHO”s activities pose a threat to these companies” interest.

In 2007, one of the biggest news stories in the US — the Bush administration’s firing of a group of U.S. attorneys — was covered by the reporters of the blog Talking Points Memo.

Crowdfunding has been the answer for investigative journalism around the world. In his article,  Paul Bradshaw has pointed out three models for online funding investigative works, including foundation support, viewer donation, and licensing/advertising. Usually, the reality is a combination of all three.

However, attracting readers and financial support is never an easy task. Since 2000, various non-for-profit media groups has sprouted across the world. Crowdfunding nowadays is like a fierce of starving carnivores. Only whom with the best strategy and tactics could be the survivors.

Since 2011, Knight Foundation has annually released the report “Getting Local: How Nonprofit News Ventures Seek Sustainability” analyzing many nonprofit investigative news sites. The report finds that the most successful models are those having a long-term strategic plan, annual budgetary goals and a corresponding development plan with specific metrics.

However, no successful stories can be a normative model. With consideration to Vietnam’s socio-political nature, there are two major concerns. First, the notion of philanthropic support for nonprofits is still strange in Vietnam. Second, freedom of speech is still a controversial issue.  These are big obstacles needed to overcome first!