5 Megatrends Fueling the Rise of Data Storytelling

Infographic: The Rise of Data Storytelling

Humanity is creating more data than ever before, and more of that data is publicly available.

While “data is the new oil” has almost become a cliché, the impact that data overload is having on the world is undeniable. All of the world’s most valuable companies rely heavily on data for their continued success. Even the oil giant Saudi Aramco, the most valuable company in the world, operates a 6,000 m² data center and works with Google Cloud.

In a world where almost everything is quantified, communicating insights from this data becomes a huge opportunity. That’s where data stories enter the game. Put simply, it’s the difference between simply creating a diagram and actually explaining what it means, why it’s important, and how it fits into the broader context. This type of data-driven communication is popping up everywhere from newsrooms to corporate communications.

Here we check five megatrends which is fueling the rise of data storytelling.

① Information overload

It is estimated that between 2015 and 2025 the world will see a 16-fold increase in data.

  • The bad news: The rising tide of information is growing faster than our ability to use it
  • The good news: this growing universe of data promises more insights if used properly

Fortunately, data storytelling is an emerging field that thrives on the abundance of information.

As our society and economy grows more complex, higher quality, actionable information is critical to today’s decision makers.

② Declining trust in the media

Trust in the news media has been declining for decades, and in many countries around the world, the majority of people do not consider the media a trustworthy source of information.

Trust in social media is similarly shaky. Only a third of people surveyed globally believe social media is a trustworthy source of information. A recent poll also found that 75% of US adults think political views are likely to be censored by social media platforms.

The mass media ecosystem as it currently exists faces a crisis of confidence. When a system no longer adequately meets the needs of its users, that system is ripe for failure.

③ Winner Take All Dynamics

This wealth of information should drive humanity forward, but more often than not, valuable insights get lost in the noise—either poorly presented or sidelined by clickbait and other distractions.

Today, most of us rely on algorithms and aggregators to provide us with information. Over time, these systems become very good at providing us with information that we are generally looking for. The downside, however, is that engagement-driven algorithms only reward the most compelling narratives. The few stories you see are the result of fierce Darwinian competition on platforms like Twitter or Medium.

This highly competitive environment is one of the reasons why there are so many media issues today – clickbait and tabloidism are two prominent examples.

Data storytelling takes potentially dry, complex topics and makes them more accessible, compelling, and more likely to win the battle for people’s attention.

④ Go beyond the text

Many of our existing systems look the way they do, in part due to previous technological limitations.

Search engines, for example, are still largely driven by text-based considerations. This makes sense since the early internet was essentially a collection of pages of text and hyperlinks.

Today, search engines are much better at accommodating other forms of information, and advances in technology are breaking new ground in video analysis and data visualization. Advances in AI could soon allow users to search for visualizations in ways that don’t even involve text keywords.

In a future where finding information in a visual format is as intuitive as a Google search is today, the utility and reach of data storytelling will increase dramatically.

⑤ Democratization of data storytelling

Even though the number of people with professional qualifications in data analytics, data science and other similar professions is increasing, it has never been easier for non-professionals to create and publish high-quality visualizations.

Free tools that work on almost any device have broken down barriers to access for millions of people around the world. There is now a universe of resources for people and organizations looking to convert data into a compelling visual format.

Below is a selection list Data Storytelling Resources from intuitive design tools to powerful programming language libraries:

Of course, there are many more resources, and we’ll cover that more fully in the future.

the last mile

The term “the last mile” is typically associated with e-commerce. Fulfillment can be centralized in huge hubs and delivery streamlined with consistent trucks and precise routes, but neighborhoods and apartment buildings refuse to adhere to rigid standards. In the last mile, the orderly world of logistics falls apart, making this leg of the journey the most thorny problem for companies like Amazon to solve.

This last mile analogy also applies to communication. Analysis and datasets can be polished and made publicly available, but the real world is messy. People are unpredictable, everyone has their own learning style and different levels of data literacy.

Unlike ecommerce, which starts with a defined request, insights come in unexpected flashes. Those happy moments require the right conditions, and the fact is that most sources of quality information (databases, white papers, reports, etc.) are accessed only by a small number of people doing research for a lifetime.

This is the great opportunity that data storytelling offers. Quality information is being distilled into a form that is more digestible, memorable and shareable, allowing more people to benefit from this era of information abundance.

Put simply, data storytelling bridges the gap between underutilized knowledge and the growing number of people striving to separate the signal from the noise.