So, what were the chances of that?!

This weekend (I’m writing this on a Tuesday evening) there’s the deadline for entering the second feeder contest for Iron Viz. Iron Viz is one of the highlights of every Tableau Conference, where three winners of the feeder contests perform on stage in front of 12000 or so people to produce an amazing viz in just 20 minutes. Possibly the most ridiculous display of nerve and talent you’ll ever see in the world of Tableau, a great spectacle that leaves those watching in awe of the three competitors.

To take part on stage would be absolutely out of my league, but there are still good reasons to enter. Firstly, the task of pushing myself to produce a competition-quality visualisation that wouldn’t seem too out of place in a field of 60 or so competitors will be a great experience. And secondly, if it was possible, just possible, to win the feeder, it would be a free ticket to this year’s Tableau Conference in Vegas, which otherwise I am highly unlikely to attend. And as I mentioned here, and here, it was rather good last year, to say the least.

And thirdly, the Safari theme suits me. If you have to find a dataset to work with and spend a long time on creating a viz, then I would always find something you enjoy or are passionate about. I have long been passionate about wildlife conservation, and so when I was browsing the Environmental Investigation Agency website and found some data about rhino horn seizures, I knew I had the start of what I wanted to to. I was about to enter my first Iron Viz. In fact here’s a photo of me from seven years ago … (and yes, the medal proudly displayed on my horn is a London Marathon completer’s medal)


I wanted to challenge myself in several ways. I wanted to emulate some of the best Tableau Public authors around, to challenge myself in the use of more artistic layouts. 100% floating tiles, transparent images to act as backgrounds, use of photo images, long form infographic style, circular insets to name a few things. I wanted to emulate the master of such visualisations, Jonni Walker:

Dashboard 1-107

Jonni’s viz above is one of many he has done on different animal and bird species. It’s so good, as well as looking like it has come straight out of the pages of a magazine, it actually made me want to go out into Derbyshire and look for kingfishers. We talk about a good visualisation having a call to action. There’s no more literal call to action than that!

Fast forward to last Sunday. My visualisation was making progress. I’d got most of what needed including working reasonably but still with plenty to do. And then, a stunning early entry from my good friend Ken Flerlage dropped on Monday. To emphasise, my version below is far from finished! But, see if you can spot some similarities and differences:


So here goes. Ken’s is amazing, mine is unfinished. Ken’s is black, mine is beige. Ken’s has a hard-hitting message, mine includes the same issue but doesn’t tell the full story, instead with more generic rhino info. Ken’s has great text annotations mine doesn’t (yet). Ken’s is polished, stunning and deserves to win … mine, well you get the point But we have both gone for exactly the same story and the same issue. We’ve even used exactly the same datasets from exactly the same sources. We’ve quoted and recommended almost exactly the same charities. We’ve both gone for circular insets and long form dashboards (of exactly the same length!). Given the only guide was “Safari”, it’s uncanny how similar our submissions are.

Ken’s blog is here – it includes some shocking imagery but I make no apologies for that given the subject matter:

The image on the right is exactly how it was the moment Ken got his early entry in – I mailed it to him to show just how close our thinking has been, and so it wouldn’t look overly suspicious if I entered at the weekend with such a similar idea. So what do I do now? Anything I do will either seem inferior or look like it’s copying. I know mine is far from finished – I need to decide what to do at the bottom, I need to sort out text and annotations, I need to finalise the story, I need to update tooltips and interactivity. And I’m not overly happy with the distribution map, since the specks for the  Javan, Sumatran and Indian (greater one-horned) versions are barely visible. A lot still to do, but now I know there’s such an obvious yardstick!

It doesn’t feel right to enter now. I will finish the viz – otherwise this is too much of an excuse not to. And I entered because I wanted to try my first ever viz of this type and highlight an important issue. Thankfully Ken is highlighting this better and more powerfully than I could have imagined! But if I do enter, it will seem like I am trying to outdo Ken’s viz, and I don’t think that’s even possible. I’ll think about this. If there are things I do that are slightly different (do I focus more on the map and the information on individual instances, do I include a video, for example?), is it because I’m trying to gain an edge? If I focus on things that Ken has included too, is this just imitation?

Ken (sorry Ken, you’re getting a lot of mentions here!) is one of the nicest men I know in the community and has often been very supportive and appreciative, so I know he will think there is nothing funny going on. In fact, he’s encouraged me to enter, despite us both having no idea we were working on identical data and issues!

Incidentally, a couple of weeks ago, a fascinating blog was published on the subject of tile maps and maps of Africa, using the recently published data of world countries’ Internet usage.

It was Ken again! Ken has done some amazing work considering many more regular and irregular ways of representing Africa using tile maps (the link to his blog is further up this article). Only during the last phase of his work did he realise that someone else was doing similar work and blogging about this; er, me – here and here! But he didn’t mind at all and nor did I.

The coincidences continue, perhaps they’re not *quite* so coincidental if you consider that there are two of us out in the blogosphere who are both fascinated by Africa, its maps and its magnificent endangered inhabitants. There is certainly room for the works of two keen data amateurs to explore different ways of visualising the continent of Africa, so perhaps there is room for two takes on the same important issue, if only because it gives twice as many opportunities to highlight the organisations that are doing great work trying to combat crime and poaching in this area. Ken’s been kind enough to call me out in his blog and I’m delighted to do the same for him.

I know who I want to win iron viz! That said, as always I’m excited to see the amazing standard of entries and looking forward to many more. I just hope there are no more on rhino horn trafficking, that might just be one too many …


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