Uninformative Graphic

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Wednesday morning’s Twitter feed brought this infographic and blog post to my attention by New Relic, titled “Improving Tradition with Technology: Obama for America Tech Team Infographic“. At first, I thought this would be an infographic showing how Obama’s “…small team capitalized on web and mobile technologies to capture massive donations, volunteers and votes.”

When I looked at the graphic by New Relic, I came away feeling confused rather than enlightened. Looking back on some of Cairo’s arguments, an infographic “…presents information, and it allows users to explore that information.” (Cairo, p. 73). The storytelling structure is author-driven, and explanatory. It presents the problem, the goal, the stakes and details to how that solution was implemented and achieved. However, New Relic shows the user all these things but doesn’t explain anything beyond the tools used. What I wanted to see was the how of things. How did the small team of 50 people use big data, SaaS tools, Agile? How did it utilize the cloud? Simply for storage or something more complex? How was all this used to capture donations, volunteers and votes?

The infographic is shallow because it lacks any deeper take-aways that drive at exactly how Obama benefited from this technology. It does nothing to clarify technology’s role in the Obama campaign. I am not even sure what exactly the tech team did. It doesn’t “…clarify [messages], highlight trends, uncover patterns, and reveal realities not visible before.” (Cairo, p. 79). “The Right Tools for the Right Job” has copy that says simply “Focus on what matters and outsource everything else” followed by a list of software. Were those the things that mattered or were those things what counted as outsourced? What was it that mattered?

Last of all the images, while cute, are redundant and do not reveal any quantitative data or insight. I believe it’s called “chartjunk” by Tufte. They are also inconsistent in representation. While Akamai is shown as being a distributing network, GitHub version control is simply the Octocat logo. What does a checkmark say about Optimizely? What exactly is A/B testing? Amazon’s icon is the most obviously tautological:  it’s name and logo for web services slapped on a computer screen icon above a line that says “static site hosted on Amazon”. Great!

Perhaps, however, I am not the right audience for the infographic. I actually rather dislike it, if you couldn’t tell by now. Its process is rather simple for those who are technologically savvy, since I imagine such a group would already be aware of using these tools, and what and how they are used. I would expect a graphic targeting technologically minded people to show how these existing tools were used in an innovative and unlikely ways in the Obama campaign. I expect it to answer how technology improved tradition.

This might be the kind of thing geared towards people who are in politics and not very technologically minded. After all, not everybody gets to take classes at the I School. But then, there is not any explanation for what exactly GitHub is, or what a cloud does, how Agile/Iterative deployments are good choices for technology developments, or what Akamai CDN enables. The only thing I am able to conclude is that this infographic is more of a marketing tool for New Relic showing how they were part of the Obama campaign to some degree. Who is the audience? I am not still not sure but maybe you have a better idea…