Any digital journalist knows that an infographic can tell a thousand words. While stringing a coherent sentence together used to require a great deal of learning in the language of code, this is no longer the case.
Data journalists at publications like the New York Times and the Guardian have, in recent years, elevated interactive graphics and data visualization to an art form. Meanwhile, the proliferation of build-your-own-infographic sites has empowered the rest of us to produce rougher, humbler versions, free of charge.
Tech entrepreneurs HackFwd launched one such site, Infogr.am, in public beta yesterday. The site invites you to log on using Facebook or Twitter, select a template, enter data in an Excel-style worksheet, embellish the automatically-conjured graphic with text, images and quotes, and share your masterpiece through the online channel of your choice.
All of this is, in theory, miraculous news for data amateurs wishing to visualize information in any format above the Easy-bake pie chart. Better yet, the design templates are aesthetically pleasing, and the drag-and-drop interface straightforward. However, be warned (bearing in mind that this is day two of public beta) that the site is buggier than a swamp at sundown. Some survival tips:
- A seed of basic knowledge about how Excel spreadsheets become graphs is helpful; this site gives you an example to work from, but will not hold your hand through which number needs to go in which cell in order for it to become a sliver of the Easy-bake pie (which you may have resigned yourself to baking after all).
- Suppress your ctl+z instincts– they will not serve you in this ecosystem. And avoid your backspace button at all costs; one stroke of the pinky finger will toss you straight out of the site. The good news is that it auto-saves every few seconds, and once you have logged sheepishly back in for the sixtieth time you will likely find your most recent edits intact in “Library.”
- The image-import function is temperamental; if it does work, you will not be given the option of re-sizing, so do that beforehand.
- The embed code is impossible to copy onto your clipboard, which, if you were planning to embed the graphic directly into another website, is a frustrating discovery after so much dragging and clicking. Thus, the experimental pie chart created for this post is pictured above, but you must click here if you wish to interact with it.
- Your graphic is only as good as your info.