Streamgraphs are pretty, but can you understand them?

Take a look at this:




Is it a digital representation of marble art?
It kind of looks like it…
but actually its a part of Nicolas Garcia Belmonte‘s Streamgraph showing the number of tweets during the 2012 European football tournament.





Click to read more about it here.


A what?

What is a streamgraph?  Basically, it’s an area graph (fancy line graph usually with a lot of colors for displaying a whole lot of quantities.)  See the below.



This fun visualization is by Jure Leskovec, Lars Backstrom and Jon Kleinberg (check them out here) is a flashback to the 2008 presidential campaign.  It shows the rise and fall of popularity of memes during that time.


And then you take it and you flip it on a center axis and then you have this:



This is the most famous example of a streamgraph, by a team at the NY Times showing the ebb and flow of box office revenue. Plus it’s pretty.


And there’s always a “but”

Streamgraphs are beautiful, but they have come under fire for their readability. Especially when you come across ones like this:


***Eric Rodenbeck (creator) made these as as a prototype and was planning on changing the colors.  Also please check out his blog here.




Eric Rodenbeck



This streamgraph not only highlights the importance of color choice but a potential problem with streamgraphs itself.  With that much visual information, what do people know what to look at? Only when you slice it down can you decipher what each color is referring to.



Steamgraph 2




So do streamgraphs offer a good way to convey information?  It depends on two factors, the target audience (how much time are people willing to interact with your visualization) and the amount of information that the creator wants to show (if your doing a time series analysis and have a lot of quantities, a streamgraph may be the way to go.)


Streamgraphs have an immense amount of potential in its digital form, as long as its large amount of information doesn’t get lost in the stream.
I’m sorry I had to.  Also check out more reading here.

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