Interactive Storytelling

The New York Times has put together a superb archive of interactive infographics, visualizations, and photo/video journalism that they are calling 2013: The Year of Interactive Storytelling. This is, in fact, a misuse of the term—wikipedia defines interactive storytelling as "a form of digital entertainment in which users create or influence a dramatic storyline through actions." But it is nonetheless a term that seems to encompass the experimental and innovative formats the Times has begun incorporating into their reporting.

My favorite piece was How Y’all, Youse and You Guys Talk, a combination of a survey and map depicting linguistic similarity to the user (within the US). I think it's fair to say this was the most talked about visualization of the year—and among my friends, probably the most discussed visualization ever. It popped up in social media, in my email inbox, and in conversations over beers.

Addendum: It turns out the piece was the most read article of the year on NYTimes.com, despite coming online on December 21st. Remarkable.

My map: born and raised in Berkeley, CA, college in Minnesota and Southern California, current resident of Seattle, WA. One of my biggest work clients is located in Michigan—how many milliseconds does it take them to realize I'm an out-of-towner?

My map: born and raised in Berkeley, CA, college in Minnesota and Southern California, current resident of Seattle, WA. One of my biggest work clients is located in Michigan—how many milliseconds does it take them to realize I'm an out-of-towner?

I think this visualization succeeds because it reminds us, in a highly personal way, of the communities and cultures we come from, years after we have physically left them. My dad's map reflects the decade he spent growing up in Washington D.C., despite the 40 years he's spent in Cailfornia.

The results are memorable because they challenge some our conventional notions of place divisions. In the West, the urban/rural divisions seen in voting patterns are not discernible (Minneapolis, Chicago, and Washington D.C. are easily spotted, however). State lines seem to matter to some extent but the trends bleed across the borders.

I do wish there was additional annotation and explanation. The visualization presents you with the words most definitive of the three most and three least similar cities. But I have no idea what pronunciations or vocabulary I share with South Carolina and Maine.

In a high school linguistic class, I remember being told the US has a remarkably low number of dialects given its size, which is of course a product of the country's young history. This visualization does not refute that, but does show a surprising amount of linguistic diversity in light of a dominant national media and high rates of mobility between states and regions. 

In conclusion, it's a hella savage visualization.