Visualization, Data, and Social Media Response

I’ve been looking into how people comment on data and visualization recently and one aspect of that has been studying the Guardian’s Datablog. The Datablog publishes stories of and about data, oftentimes including visualizations such as charts, graphs, or maps. It also has a fairly vibrant commenting community.

So I set out to gather some of my own data. I scraped 803 articles from the Datablog including all of their comments. Of this data I wanted to know if articles which contained embedded data tables or embedded visualizations produced more of a social media response. That is, do people talk more about the article if it contains data and/or visualization? The answer is yes, and the details are below.

While the number of comments could be scraped off of the Datablog site itself I turned to Mechanical Turk to crowdsource some other elements of metadata collection: (1) the number of tweets per article, (2) whether the article has an embedded data table, and (3) whether the article has an embedded visualization. I did a spot check on 3% of the results from Turk in order to assess the Turkers’ accuracy on collecting these other pieces of metadata: it was about 96% overall, which I thought was clean enough to start doing some further analysis.

So next I wanted to look at how the “has visualization” and “has table” features affect (1) tweet volume, and (2) comment volume. There are four possibilities: the article has (1) a visualization and a table, (2) a visualization and no table, (3) no visualization and a table, (4) no visualization and no table. Since both the tweet volume and comment volume are not normally distributed variables I log transformed them to get them to be normal (this is an assumption of the following statistical tests). Moreover, there were a few outliers in the data and so anything beyond 3 standard deviations from the mean of the log transformed variables was not considered.

For number of tweets per article:

  1. Articles with both a visualization and a table produced the largest response with an average of 46 tweets per article (N=212, SD=103.24);
  2. Articles with a visualization and no table produced an average of 23.6 tweets per article (N=143, SD=85.05);
  3. Articles with no visualization and a table produced an average of 13.82 tweets per article (N=213, SD=42.7);
  4. And finally articles with neither visualization nor table produced an average of 19.56 tweets per article (N=117, SD=86.19).

I ran an ANOVA with post-hoc Bonferroni tests to see if these means were significant. Articles with both a visualization and a table (case 1) have a significantly higher number of tweets than cases 3 (p < .01) and 4 (p < .05). Articles with just the visualization and no data table have a higher number of average tweets per article, but this was not statistically significant. The take away is that it seems that the combination of a visualization and a data table drives a significantly higher twitter response.

Results for number of comments per article are similar:

  1. Articles with both a visualization and a table produced the largest response with an average of 17.40 comments per article (SD=24.10);
  2. Articles with a visualization and no table produced an average of 12.58 comments per article (SD=17.08);
  3. Articles with no visualization and a table produced an average of 13.78 comments per article (SD=26.15);
  4. And finally articles with neither visualization nor table produced an average of 11.62 comments per article (SD=17.52)

Again with the ANOVA and post-hoc Bonferroni tests to assess statistically significant differences between means. This time there was only one statistically significant difference: Articles with both a visualization and a table (case 1) have a higher number of comments than articles with neither a visualization nor a table (case 4). The p value was 0.04. Again, the combination of visualization and data table drove more of an audience response in terms of commenting behavior.

The overall take-away here is that people like to talk about articles (at least in the context of the audience of the Guardian Datablog) when both data and visualization are used to tell the story. Articles which used both had more than twice the number of tweets and about 1.5 times the number of comments versus articles which had neither. If getting people talking about your reporting is your goal, use more data and visualization, which, in retrospect, I probably also should have done for this blog post.

As a final thought I should note there are potential confounds in these results. For one, articles with data in them may stay “green” for longer thus slowly accreting a larger and larger social media response. One area to look at would be the acceleration of commenting in addition to volume. Another thing that I had no control over is whether some stories are promoted more than others: if the editors at the Guardian had a bias to promote articles with both visualizations and data then this would drive the audience response numbers up on those stories too. In other words, it’s still interesting and worthwhile to consider various explanations for these results.

  • http://blog.buzzdata.com momokop

    I can’t believe you didn’t put in a visualization after these results ;D

    I wonder, were photos/illustrations included/excluded in any of these article samples? That would make for an interesting variant type …

  • Nick

    Hi, yeah, actually articles with photos were not included in the “has visualization” category. There may be some that had illustrations that were miscoded by Turkers as “has visualization” … it was actually quite tricky (and required some iteration on the instructions) to get the coders on Turk to understand photo vs. visualization.

  • http://blog.buzzdata.com momokop

    Friend of mine just said he’d love to see this test replicated on other blogs that include visualizations/tables regularly … Our blog is too new for a robust test, but are there any others that are on par with the G’s Datablog?

  • Nick

    Unfortunately I don’t know of too many outlets that do it just like that. The economist daily chart is a lot more consistent in how it presents data and graphics. I picked the Datablog because it’s more variable.