“The greatest value of a picture is when it forces us to notice what we never expected to see.” — John Tukey
In 1854 London, in early September, a cholera epidemic was in full swing. Hundreds had died within the week, but no one could find the source or understand how the disease was spread.
Enter John Snow — no, not that Jon Snow — a pioneer of epidemiology. He challenged the conventional wisdom that cholera was airborne and hypothesized that it was spreading through London’s water system. He used a map of the city to test his theory, plotting each case of cholera alongside the location of each well. The map (below) immediately revealed that nearly every infected person lived around a single water well. Armed with his visualization, Snow persuaded the skeptical authorities to simply remove the pumping handle from the infected well and the cholera outbreak quickly subsided.
Data visualization can change the way we perceive the world. From Snow in 1854 London to understanding the history of police discrimination in Ferguson to breaking down the misnomer that is the ‘developing world’ to mapping the global flow of arms and ammunition, data visualizations can illuminate trends, break down preconceptions and motivate change. Humans, by nature, are storytellers, and when a character-driven narrative is paired with a visualization of human data, it gives the narrative context, it shows that the character isn’t alone, and it tells a larger story about the realities beyond a single anecdote. But working with data and capturing it visually is too often a slow, technical, and cumbersome process.
We’re Ian and Sean, and we’re passionate about making data easy, seeding creativity, and removing technical barriers to using data visualization in storytelling. For the last year, we’ve been building Redivis, a web community that uses data-driven stories to inform, to inspire, and to effect change. Our platform taps into existing networks of data creation and curation while leveraging the expertise of visualization developers to offer tools for storytellers to easily understand, visualize, and bring data into their stories.
We’ve already used Redivis to target patient mobility in US hospitals, to illuminate demographic and health trends across sub-Saharan Africa, and to scope the extent of surgical resource distribution across Zambian health clinics. We’re excited to spend the next five months putting our product in the hands of more journalists, and to see how we can help them bring the power of data visualization to modern media.
We’ve had an incredible first week at Matter, and we’re excited to work with this inspiring community of founders on this journey. Follow our adventure at @redivis_co and sign up for our waitlist at redivis.com.