There’s no denying the visualization of the Web. While print has suffered at the hands of the Internet, now words are also losing their grip: blogging has been replaced by pinning, emailing with 140-character Twitter direct messages, and these days a YouTube video is probably worth something like 750k words. Make no mistake about it: Internet content and graphics go hand in hand. And no one knows that better than Visual.ly.
The company has made a name for itself uses graphics to illustrate everything from social network data to tax filing insights for the last year. “The way people consume information is different,” says Visual.ly co-founder Lee. “[News] is all online and the new generation is getting it in bite-sized chunks, through sharing, through social media, through a link you see on Twitter or Facebook. That’s how we read information.”
“The rise of infographics has paralleled a shift in a new generation coming of age. It’s paralleled a shift in how people read.” And these fun, engaging, cartoonish visual facts have ridden this wave. The company started when its founders, who came from Mint, realized that this media was growing but didn’t have a distinct platform yet.
Mint was essentially the springboard for Visual.ly. Sherman and co-founder Stew Langille would notice something interesting in the spending data the application was collecting, and call up news outlets to pitch stories. “The first few things we did we didn’t actually use infographics. We’d call the New York Times or CNN and say ‘we have this really interesting data — what does it mean?” says Sherman. “But then we realized that doing it in the form of an infographic makes it more consumable. It tells the story better.”
“We saw that they were very popular, but very difficult to create,” co-founder Sherman tells us. “We formed with the idea of bringing info and data visualization to the main stream.”
To the main stream they have been delivered. Infographic creation firms are popping up left and right, staffed with equal parts talented designers and statistical brainpower. And they are beloved by the masses: users appreciate the quick, easily digestible (more simply put: fun to look at) data, and Web publishers are thrilled with the ability to brand themselves through this content and then enjoy their viral lifespan.
They might be popular, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to make. “Infographics tell a story and drive a lot of traffic and interest online,” says Sherman. “But they’re hard to produce, and time consuming.”
“A lot of people have data and are trying to figure how to market this it — and if [infographics] aren’t the main focus of the company, then it’s hard to create this.” Now, Visual.ly is started to hand over the tools. It’s Labs feature has been just beyond our grasp since the company launched, but no longer. Starting today, a variety of new infographic presets are at our fingertips.
Visual.ly has introduced a handful of applications for you own use: Life of a Hashtag (it charts the history of a Twitter hashtag), Facebook Insider (a tool for page admins), Facebook Monsterizer (similar to the Twitterize tool it formerly showed off), and Twitter Showdown (which pits two accounts against one another to find a winner). They’re available in a handful of different graphic styles and are immediately available to share out or embed. [Check out more screen shots after the break].
Our desire to turn our social activity into elaborate, fact-filled visuals makes a lot of sense: we’re constantly, constantly creating and curating information — much of it about ourselves. It isn’t just enterprises that have data anymore: it’s everyone. So what do we do with it? The Facebook Timeline touches on this, story-ifying our lives with its new, image-heavy format. Klout analyzes our digital selves and offers insights — just not in an oh-so-consumable infographic. Platforms haven’t really embraced the medium, but Visual.ly realizes the potential.
“There’s a great deal you can do with Twitter and Facebook data,” Sherman says. “It’s under-utilized. They have great APIs and you can learn so much.”
Visual.ly isn’t going to stop at social-focused applications you plug your accounts into. It’s going to get much bigger than that. Eventually users will be able to make their own themes and templates (a word Sherman says they don’t use at Visual.ly), finally giving the average users the tools to make a good infographic.
For now, though, the platform is supplying us with an innovative way to see our social selves. Which we desperately need: what we don’t need are more networks of any variety. You’ve got your photo, local, food, enterprise, group, video, anything platforms covered. But users could stand to have something to show for it. Visual.ly has this down to a science; a science of attention-grabbing visuals that take social information and makes it mean something.