New Infographics Guidelines from the Office for National Statistics and the Magic of Memes

Huge thanks to Tony Hirst (via Peter Burnhill) for flagging up a new set of Infographic Guidelines from the Office for National Statistics. You can read more about the guidelines, and their origins in Matt Juke’s Infographics Superhighway post on the ONS Digital Publishing Blog.

Screen capture from the ONS Infographics Guide

Screen capture from the ONS Infographics Guide (ONS, 2013)

Whilst these guidelines are specifically intended to address the branding needs of the ONS they also address visual storytelling and are a really useful reminder of the importance of conveying clear and useful messages through infographics. Matt Jukes’ post talks about the importance of ensuring that any infographic carrying the ONS logo is credible and uses statistics well. I’d heartily endorse that sentiment for any academic or organisational use of these sorts of visual information, particularly as not all visualisations are created equal.

David McCandless, whose handcrafted visualisation work is highly regarded and tells important stories brilliantly, has received criticism for the accuracy of his depictions. In telling a story it can be hard to represent information as precisely as desired whilst also ensuring the reader knows the key messages, and understands the implications of the data – and of the way the data has been interpreted (the classic example here being the potential bias of map projections for instance). Tools like Textal, Voyant-Tools and visualisations created by City University’s giCentre – and the exciting and highly interactive journal Vectors – are attempting to bridge the gap between beautiful and useful. There are sure to be further initiatives appearing in this direction as the role of visual storytelling becomes better understood and appreciated – and more important in an era of increasingly big data.

I am in the middle of teaching my Social Media module for students on the MSc in Science Communication and Public Engagement at the moment and one of the recurrent themes is the difficulty of getting that balance right between being fun and eye catching and being credible and authoritative.

Infographics and memes (e.g. LOLCATs, the What I think I do/What My Parents Think I do… type images) are a brilliant tool for engaging your audiences if they are done well – analysis of social media sharing and the continued growth of Pinterest confirms that images and video content can make a huge difference to how frequently posts are viewed and shared. However, done poorly they can be misleading and turn off audiences – particularly those that have a longer term relationship with an organisation and value your authoritative status.

One of the things I find fascinating about memes that bubble up – for instance one of the most recent Tumblrs and image memes has been Ryan Gosling Biostatistics (see below) – is the challenging potential they offer. In some ways there could not be a less authoritative or appropriate way to convey information than by creating sharable posters co-opting others’ images but, at the same time,  these are fun mediums and can allow you to juxtapose highly accessible imagery with arcane or inaccessible topics. They are also popular – important if you buy into Henry Jenkins’ “If it doesn’t spread it’s dead” concept – and shows a credibility and understanding of the social media space, for instance the Ryan Gosling Biostatistics meme plays on an already-successful meme, the Ryan Gosling NPR Tumblr.

Screencapture from the Ryan Gosling Biostatistics Tumblr

Screencapture from the Ryan Gosling Biostatistics Tumblr, in this case advertising an American Statistical Society 175th Anniversary event.

The Gosling meme is playful and work well because it relies on the audience’s knowledge and interest in a very specific subject matter. It is also inoffensive unlike some of the popular meme images which relies on racial stereotyping (in imagery and language) for humour. These semi-formal images are perfect for some messages – public health messages can work well in informal spaces for instance, and the Gikii law and technology conference thrives on LOLLamas. But even a great biostatistics meme image is not the sort of imagery appropriate to an organisation as authoritative and formal in it’s brand as the ONS. With social media decisions over the best way to communicate are always a trade off of organisational branding and goals, with your audience/s desires and expectations.

The ONS Infographic guide won’t be right for all organisations/contexts – it is as much about their specific brand guidance as it is about structuring infographics well – but it is a great reminder of the usefulness of guidance, style guides, and of the need to have consistent and accessible organisational approaches to engaging audiences through social media, preferably with strong visual elements.

Useful Links:

Some useful visualisation creation tools:

  • Creately | – quick free online flow chart building tool.
  • D3.JS – for the more code-minded this is a powerful JavaScript library for creating interactive data visualisations.
  • FigShare | – share your research data, including the ability to share and create graphs and visualisations via this innovative site. These are visualisations based on real data so very much fit in with the ONS’ call for quality although you would need to consider how best to turn images and interactives generated into a story for a true infographic.
  • Google Maps | – Maps are pretty much the original visualisation tool. Tools like EDINA’s own Digimap – and various GIS tools and softwares – enable creation of geospatial visualisations of academic research data, whilst Google Maps offers an accessible option for any map fan to play with. Login, click “My Places”, and “Create Map” or use Google Docs (Insert > Gadget > Add a Gadget > Maps) to create a map.
  • ManyEyes | – a lovely tool for creating visualisations of data that you upload. It takes a while to use well but produces some great visualiations.
  • Prezi | – very engaging flash-based online presentation tool which can also work well for visualisations. Looks great but takes some time to get used to.
  • Textal – like Wordle but designed, by UCL Digital Humanities experts, to enable researchers to create credible visualisations of textual data as well as analysing that text.
  • TimeToast | – create a timeline from your data
  • Simile Widgets | – enables you to create a visualisation, timeline or new way to browse your data – you may need to become familiar with some code to use Simile well/successfully.
  • | – free visualisation tools which, whilst mainly used for silly/fun infographics (definitely not ONS appropriate), can be used in more series ways or for informal visualisations and storytelling around your data.
  • Voyant Tools – free online interactive visualisations of textual research data. Really useful if your texts are appropriate in terms of IPR and ethics for sharing in this way.
  • Wordle | – plugin interview transcripts or other texts for an instant overview of content. Not perfect but a good starting point into data.


Twitter API Version 1.1 Switchover

In late May/early June Twitter finally took some long standing API components out of service as they switched to Version 1.1. This shift had been advertised for some time – and most developers should have already have made the appropriate changes – but the new API represents a couple of important changes so I thought it might be useful to review these.

The most significant change for many will be the final withdrawal of the last Twitter RSS feeds. The visibility of RSS was scaled back several API releases back (there used to be a link on each user’s page) but they remained available – and actually easier to call on – for  those looking for them. They have now been entirely switched off with Twitter redirecting interest directly to the (less easy to use/play with) API or the (much more tightly controlled) Twitter widgets and tools.

The withdrawal of all RSS feeds is understandable in business terms – Twitter will now be able to monitor activity around a tweet much more easily and to, perhaps, push promoted tweets more directly, but it is a frustrating move in terms of the openness and re-usability of Twitter data. The recent introduction of a much expanded suite of Twitter widgets plugs many of the gaps left by the RSS withdrawal however the switch off proper will be surfacing other custom scripts, embeds, etc. that still need updating or replacement.

Here at EDINA we needed to make some updates for the RSS switch-off. We display the most recent blog post (still brought in via RSS from our aggregated blogs) and tweet on the EDINA homepage as this gives visitors a sense of the most recent news and updates. For the Twitter update we have switched from a custom RSS feed from Yahoo! Pipes which aggregated and filtered content from the feeds for each of our 18 organisational accounts, to a widget highlighting the latest tweet from a Twitter List of our accounts. This new solution works reasonably well after some quick but crucial customisations to ensure a good fit with out homepage (whilst still obeying the Twitter display guidance), but the new widget, whilst convenient and Twitter-approved, does restrict our ability to filter out specific noise (retweets from other accounts, which may look more out of place on our homepage, in particular).

The EDINA Twitter list stream

The EDINA Twitter list stream

The other change to accessibility and flexibility of data is less obvious but also frustrating for those who like to do a quick and low tech mash up or prototype. Whilst Twitter have been using OAuth for some time this update ensures that effectively no Twitter tool, app or widget can use anything other than OAuth – rendering the RESTful API a rather different beast to use. With that last change in mind users of Martin Hawksey’s excellent Twitter Archiving Google Spreadsheet may want to make sure they have upgraded to Version 5.

Useful Links


Visualisation Allsorts

I sometimes receive quite specific requests about social media, new tech or other slightly more tangental things.  A few weeks ago I was asked for advice on Visualisation tools for a research project and thought that others here might be interested in the tools, sites and resources that came to mind.

The links and recommendations come from a mixture of angles: some I’ve looked at or been aware of through specific work projects; some come recommended by colleagues as new, interesting, or well crafted; and some came from looking for visualisation options for my MSc in eLearning dissertation. Do let me know what you think of any of these tools or the list itself and I’ll be very happy to update the list if you have others to recommend!


This section generally focuses on online tools (with varying policies over data use/retention) that allow you to visualise your data one way or another:

Wordle is about the simplest visualisation tool but can be effective if you want a word/tag cloud:

Image of the Closing Session at OR2012 with Wordle by Adam Field shown in the background.

Image of the Closing Session at OR2012 with Wordle by Adam Field shown in the background.

Textal is a new and more academically-targetted and mobile-friendly alternative to Wordle, specifically designed for use with text research data sets. I think it should be due out soon… :

FigShare is a site for sharing academic data, particularly scientific data. It includes some automatic visualisation functionality as well as inspiration via other people’s shared resources, graphs, visualisations:

ManyEyes is an IBM tool for visualising data – very useful and once data is uploaded it can be re-visualised: is a consumer web 2.0 tool for visualising data – generally social media related data – and is probably primarily useful as a source of inspiration for other visualisations:

Google Apps/Drive includes a series of pretty good visualisation tools that can be accessed from any spreadsheet. Standard Excel type charts can be accessed via:


You can also access more sophisticated visualisations from

Insert > Gadget

There are various examples of these being used well on the web but they really come into their own when you hook up a data collection form to a spreadsheet and then visualise it – it all connects up rather nicely.

Voyant Tools offers a number of approaches to large cohorts of prepared text-based data. It’s worth noting that, as with all of these tools really, you should anonomise and edit the text before submitting it. That’s particularly important for Voyant Tools as you can’t edit the data once it’s up and you can’t delete it easily either. But it does clever stuff in a simple way and for free:

Data-Driven Documents is a site focusing on D3.js, a JavaScript library for working with data – lots of very practical but very technical materials and ideas here:

SIMILE Widgets are a great wee set of visualisation tools from a project at MIT that are relatively easy to reuse and widely used on websites to make swishy looking previews etc.:

Timeline JS is a flexible way to create timeline visualisations – useful if that type of visual is what you’re after:

Tableau is a free data visualisation tool and rather less techie tool to handle than many of those mentioned above. I haven’t had much experience of using it but have heard good things:

SourceMap is a web service that lets you create one type of visualisation – maps visualising “where things come from” whether those be sources, commodities, trade routes, etc. Very useful but only if that’s the visualisation you actually want to create: You can find some good examples of these visualisations over on my Trading Consequences’ colleague Jim Clifford’s blog.

British Tallow trade map by Jim Clifford (click through to see his full blog post about these maps).

British Tallow trade map by Jim Clifford. Click through to see his full blog post about these maps.

Gource is a specific version control visualisation codebase – again it’s very niche but nice is that’s your niche:

Logstalgia is, similarly, a specific visualisation codebase for access log visualisation:

Dedoose is also worth noting. This is a text analysis tool and isn’t really a visualisation tool but there are visual aspects and it does help you reimagine and reinterpret text data by colour coding, tagging, grouping and viewing trends as you mark up your data:


Useful Lists of Visualisation Tools and Resources

These are some articles and listings I’ve found useful in the past – I suspect there are many more to add…

The Next Web did a great guide to visualisation tools in May 2012 (some of which have already been mentioned):

ComputerWorld also shared a very useful post on good free data visualisation tools. The article is here: and you can view a chart of all of the tools featured here:

GoGeo ( includes a visualisation software area where you can find several useful tools: There are also a number of useful collections of geographically related visualisation tools featured in the news section:

Downloadable Software

I must note two fabulous blogs for finding out about these: Tony Hirst’s OUseful blog; Martin Hawksey’s MASHe blog. Both are brilliant resources and contain many many more recommendations for software for visualisation and data analysis.

R – Free software for visualisation:

Gephi – Powerful – but complex to start out with – open source tool for data visualisation:

Expertise – Technical

These are useful website is a site dedicated to visualisation and includes a wealth of examples and useful links – very worthwhile browsing this for ideas, practical solutions etc:

Visual Complexity is a collection of best practice visualisations which can be searched, browsed, etc:

FlowingData is a blog collecting best practice visualisations and usually also indicating technology used:

Visualisation of Facebook photo virality featured on Flowing Data. Click through to read the full article.

Visualisation of Facebook photo virality featured on Flowing Data. Click through to read the full article.

There are also some individuals whose blogs are always well worth a read:

Steven Gray specialises in working with data and geospatial data visualisation with several very interesting current projects (including Textal). His Big Data Toolkit website includes updates on his research, links to useful resources, discussion of ideas, etc.

Melissa Terras is co-director of the Centre for Digital Humanities at UCL and has worked on a variety of visualisation, research and interaction projects around Digital Humanities, including Textal, which can be found on her website:

Martin Hawksey (already mentioned above) of JISC CETIS blogs at MASHe ( and often examines data analysis and visualisation including some superb work on Twitter data and visualisation. A search or browse of his blog for visualisations should find some interesting examples using web and downloadable data visualisation tools. As with any of these notable folks he is likely to respond to comments or questions so do comment on his blog!

Visualisation of UK University Twitter Following patterns by Martin Hawksey. Click through to read more about this visualisation and view his and Tony Hirst's IWMW 2012 presentation on Data Visualisation.

Visualisation of UK University Twitter Following patterns by Martin Hawksey. Click through to read more about this visualisation and view his and Tony Hirst’s IWMW 2012 presentation on Data Visualisation.

Tony Hirst (already mentioned above) of the Open University blogs at OU Useful ( and his posts often revolve around visualisation of data, particularly social data. I would recommend having a browse around his site (e.g: and leaving comments/questions.

Aaron Quigley of St Andrews University ( is an expert on Human Computer Interaction and shares great resources and ideas around HCI and visualisation regularly. Aaron is also working on the Trading Consequences project and occasionally blogs about visualisation plans/issues related to that project here:

The giCentre at City University London looks at geographic information and visualisation is a major part of that work. Their projects – which have included special commissions for the BBC and others – and related materials can be found here:

Patrick McSweeney of University of Southampton has worked on a couple of nice visualisation projects and hacks – notably his OR2012 Developer Challenge winning concept of provenanced visualisation within/connect to the repository  – and usually shares the technologies behind them. You can browse recent projects here:


Expertise – Artistic/Creative/Inspirational

This section focuses on those who offer visual inspiration and expertise. I had hoped to include Douglas Coupland who worked on a very creative data visualisation project a few years back but I can’t recall the name of the project nor find the link – do let me know if you can help me out with a link here. is a site collating new ways to visualise data of various sorts. This is about novel artistic rather than automated approaches:

Information is Beautiful, which I’m sure you’ve all seen before, is the home of David McCandles’ work and is really useful for inspiration/artistic visualisation and interpretation of data:

Pinterest includes a number of visualisation boards that may be useful as inspiration/a connecting point to further websites and technical details:

Culture Hack Scotland has included some fantastic visualisation and interpretation work in the past – and I’m sure the same is true for other hackdays working with large data sets. For previous projects in 2012 and 2011 have a look here:

And finally…

Ellie Harrison is a visual artist based in Glasgow who specialises in interpreting data, including some lovely visualisation work. Her website is here: and her internet projects can be found here:

Screenshot from Ellie Harrison's most recent web project Trajectories. Click through to access this art project which uses visualisation to explore self comparison.

Screenshot from Ellie Harrison’s most recent web project Trajectories. Click through to access this art project which uses visualisation to explore self comparison.


Hopefully some of the above will be of interest/useful to you as well as the person who originally asked the question. As I’ve already said I’d appreciate any comments, additions, etc. you may have. Visualisations aren’t the core thing I spend my time on but images and visual aspects are so important to making an impact on social media that they are, of course, an area of great interest.


Recent social media news – including EDINA’s new LinkedIn page

It’s been a while since I posted an actual blog post rather than a liveblog and I thought it might be useful to summarise some interesting new social media news that has emerged over the last few weeks. It’s in no particular order but should hopefully be of interest.

Friends Reunited re-launches. One of the very first social networks has made a very unlikely comeback recently. Friends Reunited was the Facebook of it’s day (around 2001-3) encouraging old school friends to connect and post messages on each others walls. It had a real following in the UK but it didn’t develop fast enough and when it was sold from it’s private owners to ITV it really went into decline. However with the visual appeal of Tumblr, Pinterest and HistoryPin in mind and the massive appeal of family history as a new focus the site has relaunched in a new visual nostalgic style. Those used to frequenting Mum’s Comfort Food (formerly Monster Mash) in Edinburgh will instantly be used to the look and feel which is a bit like iPlayer in I Love the 1980s mode. And a fascinating footnote: Freindsreunited are manually retrieving login details for users who can no longer remember their logins, email addresses, passwords etc. It’s notable only because it’s rare a site is around so long it justifies doing that. Although from my first login there it looks like the masses have not returned to Friendsreunited (yet) despite the press coverage.

HistoryPin adds lots of new features! Chief amongst these are Channels which allow significant customisation and aggregation of contributions. A lovely idea for individuals, local history groups etc. We were lucky enough to have Rebekkah from HistoryPin along at a JISC GECO workshop on Geospatial in the Cultural Heritage Domain last month – you see the notes from her talk – which included sneak previews of the new Channels – over on the GECO LiveBlog for the event.

Facebook launches Timeline for Pages. Anyone with a Facebook page will know by now that the old style pages rolled over to the new style Timeline on 31st March 2012. The new look and feel will be very familiar to anyone looking at friends profiles over the last few months (personal profiles having rolled over around January).  Whilst the responses to personal timelines seems to have been quite mixed I think the new format work rather well for Pages and I haven’t seen much in the way of criticism – although inevitably looking around for familiar elements takes a wee bit of getting used to.

One of the most fun parts of the new format Facebook pages is the ability to add “Covers” – large images (851px by 315px – very similar to many WordPress theme banner sizes) which have presumably been labelled as “Covers” to appeal both to those who create elaborate scrapbooks and photo albums as well as those who wish they’d been in a rock band. We’ve now got Covers in place for all of our Facebook pages – why not take a look at the EDINA AddressingHistory Page and Digimap Page both of which use nice geospatial images:

Digimap's Facebook Page showing the new Timeline.

We actually try to keep a collection of images of events, services, etc. for just these sorts of times. A number of us at EDINA are pretty decent photographers and tend to take Digital SLRs to events anyway so we make a concious effort to capture our own high resolution images that are specific to us and our work so that when it comes to sharing images, illustrating blog posts or reports, etc. we have suitable images to hand. For AddressingHistory and JISC GECO, both of which were both very much about engaging the community and encouraging them to blog we’ve found Flickr accounts really useful – sharing images of materials and events lets others out on the web create more engaging posts and talk about our projects. Talking of images…

Facebook buys Instagram for $1 billion. Old news now but still worth noting. The story has mainly been reported from a “is this the new dot com bubble” perspective which is hardly surprising as the purchase does value a free iPhone app at more than the value of subscription-based New York Times. However looking at this a bit more pragmatically it’s not quite such a daft purchase. Facebook has paid “cash and shares” and with the Facebook IPO coming up very soon it’s possible those shares are a big part of the payment and being valued highly. More importantly Instagram has a lot of the design and hipster chic that Facebook lacks, useful in itself, and will bring with it a user base and their photos – since images are, in my experience, some of the most productive sources of interaction on Facebook, that’s also significant. Instagram’s main function is to make fairly mediocre phone images look quirky, nostalgic, and tangible in a hard to explain sort of way. Adding that functionality to the photo sharing and storing aspects of Facebook seems like a good move as more of us move to experiencing the site almost exclusively on smartphones or tablets. On a sort of related note a very good recent(ish) Planet Money podcast talked about the longtail of the app economy with the founder of Instapaper.

Pinterest sees rapid growth and claims 97% of fans are female (see piece in Forbes and stats on TechCrunch). If Pininterest has passed you by so far you may be more than a little surprised at the number of new users it’s attracted in a very short time. The idea is very simple and rather familiar if you’re used to using Tumblr, the Flipboard iPad app, the new(ish) Delicious Stacks, Flickr Galleries, Storify, and any number of more obscure Web2.0 sites.  Pinterest is essentially a virtual pinboard for images – you can also add short comments and share those links/images. It’s a very basic idea but engaging because it is so visual, easy to use, and the interface is based on big buttons, easy browsing etc.  Like many predecessors it’s a custom magazine for the web but, unlike many of those, it also has a big user community. And for reference websites with no “pinnable” images cannot be pinned/saved/shared so it’s a great reminder to always include a good image on your webpresences – particularly if you can share something eyecatching!

Citizen Olympics Reporting. Two recent and exciting citizen reporting initiatives have been kicked off recently. The first and larger is #media2012, a reporting network for the Olympics. They held a recent kick off meeting which you can read about here. There is also an associated project to provide crowdsourced blog coverage of the Scottish arm of the torch relay which goes by the name CitizenRelay. Read more about getting involved here.

And finally… EDINA has a new LinkedIn page! If you head over there you can start following us for updates and news. And if you are a current or former staffer here do update your profile to create a connection back to the page. We’ve actually been planning to create a LinkedIn page for a while so it’s really good to see it live!

And even more finally… Our Will’s World project (#willdiscover) has launched and is contributing data for this year’s Culture Hack Scotland. The data is here in case you’re interested but there will be much more on that to follow…


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