Can someone please stop the infographic madness?

A few years ago, we started doing info graphics by actually doing a lot of research on data and then working with a great group of guys to create art and visualization. One of them was good enough to be linked from Apple’s website. Old magazine hands called these infographics, charticles. Wired and the old Red Herring were particularly good at this stuff. (No surprise, because my former editor and goddess of the charticle, Joanna Pearlstein works(worked) for both those publications.) USA Today, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, too had been creating these graphics for a long time, except they didn’t use them as a way to generate web-buzz.

Mint, a financial management company did a great job of using infographics to draw attention to their blog and by extension to their service. Their success encouraged other companies to do adopt similar tactics. On the other end of the spectrum, newer publications including blogs like ours created a lot of buzz and traffic for us and others such as Fast Company and Good Magazine. What they did – they told a story. They were packed with a lot of information and numbers. Most importantly, they added to the reader experience.

It is my belief that in modern times, no success goes unpunished. Infographics, too, were “punished” for their success. Today, not a day goes by when I get an email from someone offering me some kind of infographic – online buzz for Oscar nominees, for example. Or a graphic outlining (Good) S**t @Garyvee Says from Hubspot! Now I like Gary and Hubspot seems to be a decent enough company, but does that need to be an infographic?

What has really happened is that social media experts discovered that people like to share infographics and many folks like to embed them in their tumblers and blogs. This gives “the product being pitched” an online buzz. In other words, it has become a game to game the social web. Maybe it is time for everyone to rethink and reconsider infographics and what they are good for.

Responses

  1. Steven Chayer says:

    June 29th, 2012 at 6:26 pm Reply

    Well that settles that. I wondered if I should employ infographics in my infant effort to draw attention to a product I hope to launch soon. However, I also trying to earn the attention and possibly the respect of Om, Walt, Kara, David, and Brier and the other net luminaries.

    I remember a joke from my childhood having the punchline; “You can bet your ass I won’t be asking for those Cheerios.” This is how I’m feeling after reading this. Thanks, Om, for helping me see where the bar is.

  2. fecak says:

    March 16th, 2012 at 7:38 pm Reply

    Well said. It seems some companies are compelled to produce a graphic every day, and to push it through twitter, yet the content is entirely ‘forced’. If you can say something simply in a couple sentences, we don’t need all the overused color palettes.

  3. Jason Putorti says:

    March 16th, 2012 at 4:10 pm Reply

    Thanks for the Mint acknowledgement. I agree that a ton of Silicon Valley companies have followed Mint, I published most of the playbook on Quora here: http://www.quora.com/How-did-Mint-acquire-1-5m+-users-without-a-high-viral-coefficient-scalable-SEO-strategy-or-paid-customer-acquisition-channel — the Mint content strategy was so good that the entire team, or at least the talented part, spun out as Visual.ly after the acquisition.

    The problem with your argument is, most people don’t live in Silicon Valley, and most people aren’t you. Those of us inside it are constantly bombarded with all of the startups trying to get attention and we’re all in that early adopter segment. We have fatigue, but most people outside may only interact with those brands and infographics that meet their interests. Mint created a lot of personal finance infographics and reached the mainstream because of their appeal, timeliness, and because the economic collapse was happening in the middle of our big marketing push. Similar brands who want to reach people interested in fitness, or cars, or politics, can use this as a tool to communicate a story to the niche that’s interested in it.

  4. Ulmas Pulatov (@ulmas) says:

    March 14th, 2012 at 6:58 pm Reply

    A couple of weeks ago, when came across this post http://lifehacker.com/5875817/35-macgyver-tips-clever-uses-and-other-life-hacks-in-one-infographic I made the following comment (looked up the text from the email verification message):

    “At what point of time in history have these started to be called “infographics”? Just write up that list as a regular text with headings, for God’s sake. Or at least make it elegant, pleasing for the eye. Or better yet, if you took that list from somewhere, just link to it – do everyone a favour. Complex data run through analysis and simplified in elegant graphics – that’s what an Information Graphics is a name for.”

    For whatever reason, my comment has never been published on LH. But the point is, people, please stop this cheap trend – put in more creativity and effort to generate traffic.

  5. Cameron Barrett says:

    March 14th, 2012 at 11:21 am Reply

    There’s nothing wrong with a good infographic every now and then. They’re fantastic learning/teaching tools. Bad infographics, however….those need to be stopped.

    1. Om Malik says:

      March 14th, 2012 at 3:21 pm Reply

      Well said Cameron Barrett!

  6. Dharmesh Shah (@dharmesh) says:

    March 14th, 2012 at 9:17 am Reply

    You are right. Guilty as charged (I’m one of the co-founders of HubSpot).

    Will talk to the team and see if we can be on the “right” side of this particular line. I’m not a fan of infauxgraphics either — it just starts to become noise.

    In (mild) defense: This was a piece that was published alongside with the news that Gary had joined our advisory board (it wasn’t just a completely random post). But still, your point is well taken — and heard.

    Cheers,
    Dharmesh

    1. Om Malik says:

      March 14th, 2012 at 9:27 am Reply

      Dharmesh

      Thanks for the kind message. I think when it comes to these infographics, less is more. if you do one great infographic, it is worth linking to or sharing on the social web as well. I think my key lesson: add value for rest of us and we will applaud by giving your work attention.

  7. Joseph Abrahamson (@sdbo) says:

    March 14th, 2012 at 9:06 am Reply

    One of the hearts of the infographic plague is that getting good data is hard. 200 years of statistics says you need a lot of it, you need it to be independent, you need it to have the kind of experimental/causal structure that will support your inference.

    One of the hearts of the infographic plague is that even with good data, drawing good empirical conclusions is really difficult. It’s an art and a science that few can replicate, and it needs to be the foundation of your design.

    Infographics done right are just hard; so long as the audience can’t tell the difference between one done well and one done shitty then the reward of presenting a good infographic publicly just isn’t there.

    I don’t know how to solve that problem, though.

    1. Om Malik says:

      March 14th, 2012 at 9:28 am Reply

      Great Point Joseph. You are spot on — which is why adding value is key. Thanks for your comment.

  8. Tristan Higbee (@TristanHigbee) says:

    March 14th, 2012 at 8:53 am Reply

    “Now I like Gary and Hubspot seems to be a decent enough company, but does that need to be an infographic?”

    Does it need to be a written article? Why not an infographic? It sounds like you just need a “Stop pitching us your infographics!” note on the GigaOM contact page.

    1. Om Malik says:

      March 14th, 2012 at 9:22 am Reply

      Tristan

      I am trying hard to find meaning in your comment. Are you trying to be funny/sarcastic. Because, otherwise, it is clearly the article didn’t make much sense to you.

  9. Mike Harding (@mah1) says:

    March 14th, 2012 at 7:42 am Reply

    Given a choice between a page of words and a picture that conveys meaning, reasonable humans with busy lives will take the picture every time.

    Now, are people making stupid infographics? Yes, but that doesn’t mean that infographics should cease. It just means that bad infographics should be subjected to the same criticism as any other medium.

    1. Om Malik says:

      March 14th, 2012 at 9:24 am Reply

      Mike

      Can you point to any line in the piece which says stop charticles or good infographics. I think there is a whole lot of nonsense infographics that have taken away the overall value. Again, I already said that.

  10. Carla Schlemminger (@carlainsf) says:

    March 13th, 2012 at 3:39 pm Reply

    Hi O.P., I don’t doubt that you in particular have come across some gratuitous graphics in search of a story! ;) Alternatively, what I counsel clients on is to take a compelling story and wrap visuals around it. When well-designed, this can be a smart way for companies to amplify some unknown facts or trends, especially if they are establishing themselves in a new market where there is an education vacuum or confusion in the space. Easy-to-grok graphics really do help there and complement the new company, product or category launch, etc. Journalists I’ve worked with have welcomed these graphics as we provide all the sources and numbers handy behind the infographic so they can deconstruct it and/or publish it at will post interview. By virtue of the 24/7, always-on media world that is more than ever stretched for time, journalists have really voiced demand for more information up front and access to assets via newsrooms – before covering the piece. Graphics and stats aid that process so the journalist has more at his/her fingertips.

    Here are examples of infographics I’ve personally worked on (including concepting) which have proven to help companies get their message and positioning out, in addition to garnering solid play in the media:
    – Crowdpark Social Casino Market: http://www.crowdpark.com/social-casino-market
    – Peak Games Fastest-Growing Social Gaming Company for Emerging Markets http://www.peakgames.net/statistics.html
    – Plaxo Mobile, Address Book & Backup Trends http://www.plaxo.com/mobiletrends

    1. Om Malik says:

      March 14th, 2012 at 9:25 am Reply

      Carla

      Thanks for the comment. I hope in the future there are no links embedded in comments. It is annoying. Please send me an email or post on your blog so I can link to those.

      Best

  11. sc0rch (@sc0rch) says:

    March 13th, 2012 at 10:41 am Reply

    It’s not a problem that people want to promote their product, nor that they’ve found infographics as a carrier of their self-interested message. Might as well complain about them gettin’ all trendy-like and using the Intarwebs.

    Use the opportunity to educate them/us in what makes an infographic great, in how to go about constructing infographics of value. E.g., http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/posters

  12. Bastian Lehmann says:

    March 13th, 2012 at 9:30 am Reply

    It has nothing to do with infographics. The underlying problem is bad storytelling. The “infographic” (i deny capitalization), is just a (former) fancy tool of our times used by mediocre marketing folks to cover up boring stories or impress an audience of viewers that is expecting them like the next shallow blockbuster by Michael Bay.

  13. Sunil Pratap Singh (@ElectroKnol) says:

    March 13th, 2012 at 9:15 am Reply

    Interesting but the title of this Post and your one post of your blog ( http://om.co/2012/03/11/what-does-a-year-really-mean ) are expressing onomatopoeia, Figures of speech ,(you have used an info-graphics for describing an year) info-graphics are overused by everyone me , you and he also…

  14. Dave Linabury (@Davezilla) says:

    March 13th, 2012 at 8:55 am Reply

    Agree with you Om, but I’d put the blame more squarely on an older, offline source: USA Today. Their penchant for combining minimal news coverage with colorful graphics encompasses the intellectual depth and prowess of an elementary school science poster.

  15. Pitch, BURP IT (@TheBurpPitch) says:

    March 13th, 2012 at 2:04 am Reply

    Totally agree. Infographics are overused. It’s time to move to the Burp Method: if you can’t Burp It Out, it’s not worth saying. #LEAN

  16. Kevin Marks (@kevinmarks) says:

    March 12th, 2012 at 9:52 pm Reply

    The underlying problem is that images get better previews than prose on Twitter, Facebook, G+ and of course on pinterest. We need rich previews for web pages http://epeus.blogspot.com/2011/12/facebook-twitter-and-google-plus-shun.html

    1. Om Malik says:

      March 13th, 2012 at 5:30 am Reply

      Interesting points kevin! I think when it comes to info graphics, less is more and smart is better.

  17. Jassim Ali (@jassim) says:

    March 12th, 2012 at 8:17 pm Reply

    The adoption curve of cool is playing out i suppose, just like a few summers back it was cool for everyone and his grandmother to have a blog…i guess the infograph porn is also playing out…unless smart artists come up something way more compelling like live infographics (perhaps its around in the form of platforms like http://www.wefeelfine.org/ ) this would be a regressing art/media form

  18. matthew lyons (@matthewdlyons) says:

    March 12th, 2012 at 8:06 pm Reply

    Good timing.

    I post one infographic on my blog, Monday – Friday. While I’m not necessarily apologetic for posting (I only post what interests me), I have encountered the very thing you mentioned. Even with the small amount of traffic my site receives, I have been getting an increasing amount of emails lately from people pushing their infographics. The intent of the “Hey. I have an infographic you might like” emails is so transparent that I have consistently declined. With that said, your piece has sparked me to think about if, and how, these graphics are created solely to generate traffic and click-throughs.

  19. Andrew Sider says:

    March 12th, 2012 at 8:02 pm Reply

    Well put. I tweeted about this a few months ago when I noticed my Twitter feed was taken over by infographic retweets for a whole week. @Om what do you think of tools like Visual.ly – is there a way for them to encourage an ecosystem of quality infographics, or are they just adding fuel on this “game to game the social web”?

    1. Om Malik says:

      March 12th, 2012 at 8:44 pm Reply

      I love visual.ly and i think they will encourage people to go for higher quality and focused infographics that are for the reader and not for the SEO firms/purposes. I am looking forward to see what the company rolls out next.

  20. Nitin Borwankar (@nitin) says:

    March 12th, 2012 at 7:56 pm Reply

    Om, with all due respect, infographics have always had important persuasive and informational value inside the enterprise. Trust the page-view whores to take something perfectly useful and squeeze the utility out of it with the blunt weapon of SEO. The sooner they move on, the better it will be for those of us who use data and graphics for useful work on a daily basis. Thanks for shining light on this.

    1. Om Malik says:

      March 12th, 2012 at 8:45 pm Reply

      It is just abusing a decent tool to a point that it has become worthless is the main reason why I am annoyed. I think you are spot on – and hopefully we will see new info-apps come to fore that allow people to use data/information in a much more meaningful manner

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