The Bureau of Land Management is doing a very cool guest photo editor program on their blog and Instagram. From their blog:
Bob [Wick] will serve as the guest photo editor for the bureau’s My Public Lands Instagram for the entire month of August.
Bob, who is BLM California’s wilderness and wild and scenic rivers program lead, will select photographs and offer people tips on how to improve their photography, including how-to discussions of well-known and newly released images.
You can follow Bob’s Instagram posts on the BLM’s national account: http://instagram.com/mypubliclands
It’s great to see more organizations recognize the value of a good photo editor.
We have no choice but to be drawn to images. Our brains are beautifully wired for the visual experience. For those with intact visual systems, vision is the dominant sense for acquiring perceptual information. We have over one million nerve fibers sending signals from the eye to the brain, and an estimated 20 billion neurons analyzing and integrating visual information at rapid speed. We have a surprisingly large capacity for picture memory, and can remember thousands of images with few errors.
This is why images are an essential part of any social media strategy. If you want to reach people, learn how to communicate through imagery.
How can reporters get people to read their stories and examine their graphs? I believe they can only do this in a lasting way by consistently providing content that is interesting, accurate, clear, and useful. If they do this often enough, they will become a trusted source.
What Few says here about graphs applies to all kinds of content. If you want to become a valuable source of content to people, focus on creating valuable content consistently over time. Using gimmickry to attract clicks might provide some short-term success, but it won’t earn loyalty.
Over the weekend, Drew Breunig shared the above awesome (and terrifying) graphic from Scientific American that visualizes the power of atomic bomb tests. He goes on to point out, however, that this clear image isn’t sufficient to communicate what that power means. You need a narrative for that:
Expressing the destructive power of a fusion bomb is a hard task. The average audience has no benchmark experiences with which to compare the yield of a bomb. Additionally, the challenge in telling the story of the fusion bomb is not only to show its hugeness, but to express the unprecedented nature of its size. Mike was an explosion without compare that shocked all involved.
Scientific American’s visualization is good, but my favorite entrant is the following passage from John McPhee’s examination of our nuclear history The Curve of Binding Energy in which he describes the Mike test:
Mike was placed in a building with metal siding which had been constructed for the purpose on an island called Elugelab, in the northern sector of the atoll. After Mike exploded, nothing whatever remained where the island had been but seawater. The island had disappeared from the earth. The yield of the Hiroshima bomb had been thirteen kilotons. The theoretical expectation for Mike was a few thousand kilotons—a few megatons. The fireball spread so far and fast that it terrified observers who had seen many tests before. The explosion, in the words of Ted Taylor, who was not there, “was so huge, so brutal—as if things had gone too far. When the heat reached the observers, it stayed and stayed, not for seconds but for minutes.” The yield of the bomb was ten megatons. It so unnerved Norris Bradbury, the Los Alamos director, that for a brief time he wondered if the people at Eniwetok should somehow try to conceal from their colleagues back in New Mexico the magnitude of what happened.
The scene of weathered nuclear observers, used to a few seconds of heat, holding the breath as the heat washed over them for minutes has always haunted me. At what point do you think they wondered if it would ever stop?
After reading that, I look up at the “Mike” bubble on the chart and see a group of terrified men wondering “what have we done!?” Before, I just thought “Wow. That one’s a lot bigger”.
While visualizations rage across the Internet, I’m increasingly interested in abstractions of data focused on conveying meaning rather than just visualizing some numbers. I had a conversation with Mac Slocum about this last week, as I explained our rationale for preferring smiley faces over conventional graphs in our data dashboards. He reminded me of the work done by Narrative Science to create insightful stories from data.
While data visualizations and graphicacy will continue to be grow in importance, the ability to spur action from data will come from our ability to convey its significance. Drew’s post is a reminder that the ability to do so may lie beyond visualizations.
In an interview with Government Technology, [Jed Sundwall] characterized the rise of Pinterest as part of an overall movement toward visual medium on the Internet. This trend makes the use of sites like Pinterest particularly well suited for agencies with strong visual content.
“What this means for government agencies is that if they can produce content that makes sense to be conveyed through imagery, they need to develop the operations to do that well and in a way that is purposeful and mission-driven,” Sundwall said.
Sundwall cautioned that many government agencies may not have the staffing resources to effectively manage their visual content online. He further advises that governments contemplating using Pinterest and other visually oriented social media should consider developing guidelines for the types of images they choose to represent their organizations.
Government Technology interviewed me about Pinterest, which was a nice opportunity to talk up the importance of images as content in social media.