Infographics: Art or Porn?

Infographic by Isaac Pigott

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. They convey stories in ways complex narrative content. When people try to shove 10,000 words into one infographic, pictures create headaches. And so we have the debate of whether most infographics are well-designed art or cheap info porn.

What used to be a clever art form from the likes of USA Today and the Onion (hat tip: Brian Blank) has now become the social web’s equivalent of media snacks. But Pop Chips are not hors d’ouvres as we have learned, and these infographics have become painful in length and the amount of complex data they try to convey.

Some require three, four or more screen views to convey all of their data. Others have so much information packed into the single screen view that you need reading glasses to read the fonts. These types of infographics would make any art director worth their salt scream. David Ogilvy would roll over in his grave if he could see these monstrosities. Is this too harsh? No. It’s the equivalent of admiring a beautiful painting depicting a woman versus watching cheap porn.

Yet more and more infographics are created because, frankly, they fascinate the eye attracting readers where simple text leaves content producers wanting. Complex infographics are the bad accidents of online media, sending in droves of online rubberneckers and fostering new inbound links.

Jon Aston hates infographics (Image by Devin Matthias)

That’s not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. A simple, well designed infographic can still tell an incredible story. But these types of infographics are harder and rarer to find. As Chip Heath said, “Simple is not easy.” Make sure the infographics you use are well-designed, convey information concisely and are actually useful.

What do you think of the infographic craze? Do you love them or hate them?

10 Wishes for the Baby New Year


Image from Rudolph’s Shiny New Year

With the Baby New Year about to be born, it’s time to reflect on resolutions and wishes for the next 365 days. Here are 10 wishes for the online communications space in 2011:

1) Instead of running to lynch Julian Assange, the market needs a deeper analysis of Wikileaks and its role in the 21st century media environment, good and bad. The implications will be far reaching for all Fifth Estate participants, bloggers, pseudo journalists and social network voices, alike.


2) Ethics, what are those? It’s time for the Wild West known as the blogosphere to look deeply at practices like affiliate marketing, Perks and other interesting forms of compensation.

3) That the market starts treating high school conversations purporting greatness and righteousness as the distractions that they are. There are so many better ways to invest our time.


4) May the mercenaries at Apple cave and let nonprofits receive commission-free donations on iPhone Apps.

5) Vigorous civil discourse ensues about what happens next now that social media adoption is coming to a close, and the primary focus is learning best practices.


6) Better self policing in the communications blogosphere. When a communications blogger takes a plane ticket — disclosed or not — to attend a party, then blatantly defends the party organizer and the questionable influence algorithm financing the effort, conversations about ethics need to happen. Enjoy the Pop Chips.

7) That Causes, Crowdrise, Jumo, or another platform becomes a killer valuable middleware solution that really makes a great difference for the nonprofit social web.


8) A great book launch for Welcome to the Fifth Estate that centers on the actual ideas in the text. Isn’t that what books are supposed to be about, ideas?

9) President Obama announces that he won’t run for re-election in 2012. Well, it’s just a wish!


10) Last, but certainly not least, that Soleil and every reader’s children stay healthy and safe in 2011.

Do you have a wish you’d like to add?

Special thanks to Anna Barcelos, Diane Court, Susan Murphy, Amy Hordes Erbe, Meg Fowler, Danny Brown, Isaac Pigott, Liz Scherer, Devin Mathias and Stacey Hood for their wishes, too! Trackbacks on this post are turned off. This post does not seek to generate in-bound links, instead it will hopefully inspire people to consider the ideas discussed in the context of their own efforts.

Down with the Teflon Revolutionaries

Co-author’s Note (11/20): Trackbacks on this post have been turned off.  Links/SEO were not my objective.

The following is a joint manifesto. (Cross posted with Ike)

Please follow along with:
Geoff Livingston

Ike Pigott.

(Audio link.)

With pitchforks and torches, the mob brought down an unresponsive and paternalistic media, that had used decades (broadcast) and centuries (print) of scarcity and monopoly to own the agenda. In record time, the mob has learned that you can’t dethrone the king without leaving a void under the crown… and lacking the sophistication to kill the Monarchy instead of the King, they have assumed the throne and become the very thing they revolted against.

We live in a real dangerous time right now. The social web has generally undermined the quality of information presented to us via news media, and now top tier bloggers beat down criticism with bullying tactics. The ethos is these bloggers should not be criticized for espousing ideas, and then marketing those thoughts publicly. When they are called to task for such acts retribution through silence, attacks, and — at its worst — flash mob abuse occurs. Like Andrew Keen predicted, the mob is ugly.

Should a blogger blog and not expect criticism and conjecture? Why has the communications blog conversation turned into a place where people become punitive if you have a differing point of view about ideas and direction, and state it publicly with a vigorous counterpoint? What happened to “conversations?”

Even those who were consciously championing Conversation as a tool of revolution and equality have fallen into the trap of equating the greatness of an idea with the greatness of the creator. The truth is we’re all prone to brilliance, and it’s amazing that so many brilliant ideas can now find the light of day and be shared. But it’s ludicrous (and somewhat hypocritical) to follow the same top-down hegemony that we supposedly usurped, and assume that the same people who published great thoughts last year and last week are the same people who will be correct with tomorrow’s notion by virtue of fiat. We have a duty to criticize an idea without being hateful to the author — and likewise, authors need to understand that public vetting of their ideas is not equivalent to personal attack.

Criticism is part of publishing your views online publicly. We feel very little sympathy for the celebrity “no negative/counter views” attitude right now. We understand it can hurt. In fact, we’ve both got quite a few scars (sometimes from each other) from scathing criticism. It made our thinking better.

The argument that it’s “not nice” to critique ideas doesn’t fly with us. Progress does not occur when we simply “quiet ourselves” and blindly accept or ignore ideas that can be considered harmful to our community’s general well-being. Further, it is better to criticize someone’s ideas to their face than to gossip maliciously behind their backs. As two bloggers who have received staunch criticism online over the years, we respect others who do this more than petty backstabbing.

Public Vetting isn’t easy, we will grant you that. It requires that you have faith in your own ideas, and can get out of bed the next day knowing that you’re no longer Perfect. That requires a coping mechanism. In healthy people, it’s Self-Esteem. In others, it is an overbearing Ego borne of puffery and delusion.

Abe Lincoln in BlueImagine if our founding fathers had this attitude that many bloggers do — that ideas and the people owning them should not be criticized publicly. We’d be in a much worse place in the United States today.

Our Founding Fathers were willing to die for their ideas. And if they had the attitude of many of today’s bloggers and so-called “Thought Leaders,” we’d be speaking English today instead of American! (I’m only partly joking, here…)

First of all, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams — who became fast friends during the American Revolution and died best of friends, too — would never have had the rift that created our original two party system. The two went at each other with such vigorous public and private discourse one wondered if they would ever patch their union. Yet they saw it through, and in process forged a union that’s still going strong today. Similarly, the debate about our Union that occurred in the Federalist and Antifederalist papers.

America’s revolutionaries knew when to be Officers and when to be Gentlemen. We naively assume they were as civil in their discourse as they appear with their frills and wigs. Just look at how nasty they could be in a public way.

Unlike Malcolm Gladwell, we do believe these tools have great potential to impact contemporary society in a positive fashion. We’ve seen it with our own eyes. But the communications social web as a culture needs to grow up and learn how to embrace vigorous debate if that’s going to happen. Else we will see a regression in learning and thought, not progress. That would be a tragedy for the society as a whole.

We promise to do our part and keep the vigorous discourse coming. Whether its welcomed or not, and whether we are bullied or not. We believe debating ideas and positions is necessary, particularly when they are designed to create elite thought leadership mechanisms for marketing purposes.

We are grateful to those who carried the pitchforks and torches… but not so grateful for those who are pouring the boiling oil on those who are merely trying to follow you up the walls.

We are grateful for those who have shared wonderful and world-changing ideas, and continue to do so… but not so grateful to those who believe they have earned a measure of entitlement over and above the value of their contributions.

We are forever grateful for those who have shown us how we can change the world by leading from behind… but not so grateful for those who have become Pajama-clad Princes and Tyrants of the Kitchen… who get off the free WiFi just long enough to parade around the Starbucks and pretend to be royalty at conferences and tweet-ups. You grant us your Royal presence, believing that our slings and arrows will be repelled by your reputation, that our criticism will never stick to your Teflon Robes.

We hate to tell you… but you’re the Emperor of Empty… and you have no clothes.

The Desert of Community Building

dune du desert du thar india

The following is draft material for my next book, Welcome to the Fifth Estate (the follow up to Now Is Gone, which is almost out of print). Comments may be used in the final edition. You can download the first drafted chapter of the new edition — Welcome to the Fifth Estate — for free.

One of the most crystallizing moments of my online career was when Ike Pigott said social media was an organic process. This analogy struck me as inherently true, in large part because of the significant amount of time and care one has to invest in building an active community. Like a farmer who invests love and labor day after day watching her/his fields slowly yield beautiful fruits and vegetables, community developers must tend to their community and build relationships through thoughtful interactions, valuable content, and empowerment methods.

Most marketers and communicators fail to realize the imperative of engaging the Fifth Estate as a group of people just like them. Instead they analyze their consumers, and how media like Google and Facebook change with widespread adoption.

I have a friend, Meryl Steinberg, who says that when she signed on to Twitter and Facebook she didn’t sign on to be a consumer. Her sentiments mirror many others on social networks who find themselves literally assaulted with marketers’ messages trying to persuade them about the values of their wares or causes.

These communicators analyze the data hoping for the home run. They hope, even expect that when they launch their social media the results will become their own Haiti fundraising phenomena or that they can reproduce the Old Spice viral success. And they might, if they work hard over time (as John mentions in the Old Spice case study), and infuse that special mix of creativity, intentional stakeholder centric approach, and yes, timing.

When the light switch goes on and engagement begins, often the Fifth Estate does not respond. The seeds have only begun to be planted. Relationships don’t crystalize over night. Movements take time. A vast majority of organizations don’t experience overnight successes online.

The road can be long and hard, and at times, a communicator can feel like they are walking through a desert, hoping desperately for an oasis. This is the point that many organizations quit, letting their social effort lie fallow.

It’s important not to deceive one’s self about the significant effort and time one will invest to build a community, and then continue to invest in order to sustain it. The Fifth Estate requires continued interactions. As mentioned in the second chapter, the time and human resource commitments are real and significant. Have the patience to see it through, from start to finish, and the deserts that lie between moments of great interaction. Knowing this from the start helps.

How a Blog Reader Titled My Next Book


When I announced the revision of my book Now Is Gone, I published a draft of the first chapter, “Welcome to the Fifth Estate.” A reader, Ike Pigott, who is very familiar with the first book, thought the primary theory and content was so different from the first one that it should be retitled.

Here is Ike’s comment on the Fifth Estate post:

Geoff – maybe “Welcome to the Fifth Estate” would have been a better title for the book. After all, it appears to be such a substantial rewrite, with all new case studies, that it would go beyond Second Edition status.

In actuality, Ike’s comment is very correct. More than 50% of the book is new, and of the remaining portions at least another quarter is significantly revised. The Fifth Estate theory runs throughout the book, giving it a new more dynamic view of how traditional and social media work together.

I broached the new title with Jeremy Kay of Bartleby Press. Jeremy agreed: It would be best to retitle the book given the substantive changes. So there you are! A blog reader titled my new book!

Now the arc with Ike goes further. He was actually a blogger on the Now Is Gone blog, and wrote the last post on the site. So he literally had the last word on Now Is Gone, and the first word — the title — on Welcome to the Fifth Estate! Thank you, Ike, many times!

Generally speaking, one of the approaches to writing this book has been publishing some raw draft material here. I committed to considering all comments as pieces of information that can better the book. And now you see it in action.

Please, friends, if you have something to add on one of these posts, do so. I promise to cite you if it’s used, and there are already two citations in the current draft as a result of these comments.