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Understanding the Coronavirus Pandemic Through Data Visualization

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By Jonah Feld

We are not epidemiologists. We are experts in data visualization, and we put that expertise to use to better understand the COVID-19 crisis.

The New York Times collected this dataset, which it “made available to the public in response to requests from researchers, scientists and government officials who would like access to the data to better understand the outbreak.”

The following eight interactive visualizations combine this COVID-19 data with US Census data, allowing users to filter and explore critical information at a state and county level.

We took raw numbers for cumulative cases and cumulative deaths by county and by date and turned it into something that allows the user to explore to better understand the meaning of raw data.

We also created measurements, like ratios, rates of change, percentages, etc., that add context. And we added filters to let users narrow the scope to create their own visuals that answer the most important question in data interpretation: “Compared to what?”

Through these graphs, we hope to visually communicate how serious this disease is, as well as its overall impact to date and the effectiveness of efforts so far to flatten the curve.

We hope these graphs help us all better understand this difficult situation.

Stay safe.



Descriptions of the types of graphs:

Treemap: A treemap visually represent parts of a whole. Contrasted with a map, the states and counties are proportionate to the desired value, not land area.

Animated Scatter: An animated scatterplot is a fantastic visualization when a line chart won’t do. Click on a single dot to trace progression over time.

Racing Chart: A racing chart is like a flipbook of bar charts over time. For a single measurement, it communicates changes in comparative rank, differences, and scale in an easily digestible clip.

Historic Table: This sortable table shows most metrics through the point in time indicated in the date picker. Right-click on a state to drill down to county, or skip to all counties nationally.

Daily Chart: These charts show daily activity (rather than cumulative activity as of each date). The vertical orientation encourages comparisons of daily measures over a shared x axis for dates.

Log Chart: A logarithmic scale is best for representing exponential functions. A steady slope of a line represents a fixed rate of exponential growth, and the horizontal gridlines indicate a relative change in magnitude, typically 10x.

Since Inception: This chart replaces the dates on the x axis with the number of days since reaching a common starting point: either 100 cases or 10 deaths. By aligning start points, the differences in rate of growth are more easily observed.

Small Multiples: Small multiples, popularized by visualization guru Edward Tufte, are a matrix of similar graphs using the same scale and axes, allowing them to be easily compared.


Jonah Feld is a Director of Product Development at Acronym. He specializes in data visualization and data integration for Keyword Objects, Acronym’s proprietary Enterprise Keyword Management platform for professional search engine marketers. He has 17 years of experience in SEO/SEM, with a heavy focus on analytics and reporting, having worked at agencies and in consultative roles developing business intelligence solutions.

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Quibi’s Here! But Will it Stay?

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By Kate McNee

First, there was Netflix. Then there was TikTok. Now comes a fusion: Quibi.

Short for “quick bites,” Quibi is the newest video-streaming platform to enter the competitive space. Launched on April 6, it offers 175 new high-production movies and TV shows in 10-minute “bites.” It’s an enticing concept. However, the question of adoptability remains. Will binge watchers like consuming engrossing dramas in minutes-long pieces? And moreover, will they pay for it?

Like many things, the answers to these questions, and Quibi’s true potential, are on hold given the current COVID-19 climate. But the unanimous takeaway from Quibi’s first week is the timing is tragically terrible. While Netflix customers binge to whittle away hours of time, watching clips designed for on-the-go seems…counterintuitive. Case in point: the Twittersphere’s biggest complaint is that mobile-only Quibi can’t be projected onto bigger screens. Womp, womp. Luckily, Quibi’s CEO says they will be enabling this in the future.

In response to everything going on, Quibi made the savvy business decision to offer consumers an extended complimentary three-month trial. This probably helped the platform achieve the 1.7 million downloads it reported in the first week. However, this means our final judgments on the platform must wait. Quibi’s true purpose, the need Quibi is meant to fill, won’t be possible until life returns to its fast-paced normal. Then and only then will we know if Quibi is valuable enough to pay for.

Quibi’s leadership portends success. In 2018, the platform’s company was founded by entertainment juggernaut Jeffrey Katzenberg, co-founder of DreamWorks Animation, who was looking for “the next big opportunity in entertainment.” In addition, Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay and HP, serves as CEO. Branding Quibi as the “the third generation of film narrative,” the dynamic duo amassed close to $2 billion in investment capital before launch.

The platform has a truly differentiated product offering. Turnstyle, a technology that allows you to view content in different portrait and landscape perspectives when you flip the screen, is Quibi’s patent-pending feature. And I must admit, it’s cool. Imagine you’re watching your favorite drama. You’re captivated by a tight character shot but want a glimpse of the background. Turnstyle lets you do this, dynamically flipping between the two perspectives.

With mega-successful executives, high-profile investors, and an impressive array of Gen-Z heavy Hollywood talent – A-list celebrities include Liam Hemsworth, Chrissy Teigen, and Idris Elba – it’s no surprise that advertisers have caught on. The platform’s entire $150 million first-year ad budget sold out prior to launch, spurred undoubtedly by the fear of missing out on the “the next big thing” targeted to young people after TikTok.

Credit: Quibi

What’s pressing is the question of its place within the larger streaming mix. Quibi executives maintain the platform is more in competition with social networks than the ever-multiplying streaming platforms. Quibi’s quick mobile viewing does more closely mirror social media behavior than sit-down-don’t-leave-your-bed-for-hours Netflix consumption. However, this is exactly what confounds me. Miss a moment of a TikTok dance video because of a subway announcement? Not a big deal. Quibi’s high-production content, on the other hand, would require close viewing.

Take Survive, one of Quibi’s most publicized feature films. Starring Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner and The Walking Dead’s Corey Hawkins, the movie follows their quest to survive after their plane crashes on an icy mountain. With nuanced facial expressions and hushed dialogue, the film requires one’s complete investment. Are people in the mindset to give this while they’re on the go?

Even if you see this as a non-starter, there’s the fact that Quibi will only release one episode (ten minutes or less) of its full-length movies per day. I’m simply not sure ten minutes gives enough time for consumers to get invested in a television show and be drawn to returning. That’s just not a lot of time to learn about the characters.

But it’s not all bad news: what I do see as working for the platform is the five clips of episodic and unscripted TV series Quibi premieres each day. Most of the content is light-hearted and funny: Dishmantled challenges chefs to make dishes while they wear blindfolds (yes, where they come up with this stuff is the mystery). And this is exactly why I see it as perfect for this medium. While people are on-the-go, they’re looking to be quickly entertained and informed, and Dishmantled fits this bill. However, content will need to be high-quality and uniquely suited to this platform. If not, users will return to YouTube for this type of content for free. And “competing against free,” as Katzenberg has stated Quibi will be, is a big obstacle.

Credit: Quibi

In the digital age, it’s impossible to predict the future. Minute-long movie clips could end up peaking user interest, and revolutionize movie viewing for the Millennial/Gen-Z audience. But following the mega-hyped flops of Fyre Festival and Cats, I think it’s important to practice thoughtful skepticism about pre-released, influencer-backed offerings. A resume doesn’t spell success. Only adoption does.

Kate McNee is a Paid Social Media Strategist at Acronym, working across clients in education, hospitality, and construction. With more than three years of experience in social media strategy and execution from both the client and agency side, Kate leverages her background in social media content development, strategic planning, and platform execution to drive client business goals.

Should Google be scared of Amazon?

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In March 2017, Amazon Advertising Platform pulled a surprise upset, beating out Google’s DoubleClick Bid Manager as the most-used DSP with 40% of all brand and agency respondents saying they used it, per a study from analytics firm Advertiser Perceptions.

And while reports acknowledge Amazon’s $1 to $2 billion in ad revenue in 2017 is modest compared to Google’s and Facebook’s, they also say the company is well-positioned to increase its market share.

That’s in part because Amazon offers something of a triple whammy, Bloomberg says: it sells hundreds of millions of items, runs a video streaming service and has access to tons of consumer data.

Amazon has also increasingly prioritized sponsored products in search, nudging brands to pay for better placement, not unlike Google before it.

And, Bloomberg says, CPG companies are also increasingly viewing Amazon as the digital version of store shelves where they can gain prominent display space.

What’s more, most customers that come to Amazon are looking to make a purchase – and, as mobile shopping increases, Bloomberg says more consumers are circumventing search engines altogether and searching directly on Amazon.

In fact, a 2016 study from personalization platform BloomReach found 55% of consumers turn to Amazon first when searching for products online and approximately nine in ten consumers check Amazon if they find a product they want to purchase on another retailer’s site.

“Amazon continues to be the first destination when consumers want to find a product, driven largely by a perceived superior end-to-end experience. Online shopping is all about relevance and convenience and comparison shopping has never been easier – especially with mobile growth,” said Jason Seeba, BloomReach head of marketing, in a statement at the time.

This has prompted an increasing number of brands to ask their agencies for Amazon strategies.

Indeed, Daniel Olduck, executive vice president of global strategy at search agency Acronym, said every one of Acronym’s retail clients made this request in 2017, leading Acronym to emphasize the platform even more in 2018.

Nathan Grimm, director of marketing at Amazon-focused agency Indigitous, too, said client marketing budgets on Amazon have increased significantly in the last year and he expects this trend to continue over the next few years.

But, he added, “I’m not sure if that budget is being taken away from other channels or if it’s the product of expanded marketing budgets.”

Bloomberg, too, noted ad dollars going to Amazon aren’t necessarily coming at Google’s expense, but said it is likely rather from TV or offline retail budgets.

At the same time, Acronym CMO Mike Grehan noted it’s not just Amazon threatening Google, but all mega marketplaces that have heavily trafficked sites with loyal consumers, like Walmart and Target, and that are beginning to realize how much they could add their revenue by selling ads.

And that means PPC budgets may shift even further away from Adwords.

Pointing to Google’s investments in the Shopping search vertical and its experiments with various fulfillment models, Grimm said he thinks Google is likely concerned by Amazon’s growth.

“I think they understand that Amazon isn’t winning market share because of their search engine but because customers love to shop there,” Grimm said. “To counter, Google needs to create or acquire their own rival shopping platform so they can own customer relationships.”

For his part, Grehan said Google is likely to make up some ground by taking more of an affiliate approach for transactions that take place with the aid of a voice assistant. For example, when a consumer asks Google Assistant to make a restaurant reservation, it would go to that consumer’s OpenTable account by using a deep link and Google would take a percentage of the transaction.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg says Amazon is trying to position itself as a lifestyle media brand with broad influence on consumer purchasing decisions.

“The whole point of [Amazon’s rumored acquisition of Target] is to be exactly what they wanted to be, which is the supplier of all things – the Santa Claus principle,” Grehan said.

What is blockchain and why is everyone so excited about it?

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For years, pundits declared we were living in the Year of Mobile. 2017, on the other hand, will perhaps be remembered – by marketers at least – as the Year of AI. And, like mobile, there’s a lot of development to come before true AI is an integral part of our day-to-day lives. And so 2018 could just as easily be the Year of AI, too. At the same time, we’re starting to hear a new term: Blockchain. And smart money says it won’t be long until it’s the Year of Blockchain as well.

By now, blockchain is one of those things many of us have heard of, but it’s still so early the average consumer (or even marketer) doesn’t likely understand what it is – or why experts think it will be so important.

It’s sort of like this 1994 clip from the Today Show in which hosts Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel debate what the Internet is.

“That is like blockchain today,” said Babs Rangaiah, executive partner of global marketing at digital agency IBM iX, at the recent ad:tech event in New York.

So…what is it exactly?

According to SAP – which is an Acronym client – blockchain is “a reliable, difficult-to-hack record of transactions – and of who owns what.”

That means blockchain can include records of land titles, loans and logistics manifests, or anything else of value, really.

What’s more, the records are synchronized across multiple computers – and there is no centralized control.

“Each party owns an identical copy of the record, which is automatically updated as soon as any additions are made,” SAP said.

In addition, every participant can see the data and verify or reject it using consensus algorithms, SAP added.

Approved data is entered into the ledger as a collection of “blocks” and stored in a chronological “chain” that cannot be altered. Et, voila: “blockchain.”

This enables free, frictionless, simultaneous interaction among related parties – which makes, say, the transfer of stock ownership much faster than if the parties involved had to reconcile individual private records. It could also one day make lawyers and brokers superfluous, noted Marco Iansiti and Karim Lakhani in the Harvard Business Review (HBR).

Or, as IBM CEO Ginni Rometty wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed:

Consider the process of buying a house, a complex transaction involving banks, attorneys, title companies, insurers, regulators, tax agencies and inspectors. They all maintain separate records and it’s costly to verify and record each step. That’s why the average closing takes roughly 50 days. Blockchain offers a solution: a trusted, immutable digital ledger, visible to all participants, that shows every element of the transaction.

For his part, Rangaiah used a communication analogy: It’s like posting something to social, where everyone receives the same content and changes are made at scale.

The development and maintenance of blockchain is open and shared – a process The New York Times said is “similar to the way Wikipedia is maintained by a decentralized network of writers and editors.”

In other words, ledgers are duplicated across multiple databases, which are hosted and maintained by different parties, and are updated simultaneously, which is why you won’t need need third parties to verify or transfer ownership in your future stock trades, for example.

Why is blockchain going to change the world?

According to network security firm Juniper Networks, blockchain is an inherently secure system because it electronically links the blocks. And not just that – each block is cryptographically tied to the previous block’s information. The data cannot be changed or removed once it’s in the blockchain, which safeguards the data and audit trail.

And because in part it is both cheaper and more trustworthy, blockchain could eventually become the record for all transactions, much like the Internet ended up transforming communications as we know it.

In the words of CEO Ginni Rometty – “What the internet did for communications, blockchain will do for trusted transactions.”

— IBM (@IBM) September 7, 2017

In fact, Gartner estimates blockchain’s business value-add will grow to slightly more than $176 billion by 2025 – and it will exceed $3.1 trillion by 2030.

That being said, blockchain is not a disruptive technology like Uber, which changed transportation, or Airbnb, which upended hospitality, but rather a foundational one that first requires sweeping changes in infrastructure, as well as government buy-in, which will take decades. That was the case with the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), which allows computers to transmit and receive data and had a huge impact on the economy and society, but was the purview of computer geeks in 1972.

Where is blockchain in use today?

Blockchain was introduced in 2008 in a proposal for virtual currency Bitcoin – the HBR story even likened Bitcoin itself to early email in that “you can think of it as a complex email that transfers not just information but also actual value.”

While Bitcoin is a public blockchain, companies like SAP and IBM, on the other hand, offer private blockchains.

SAP says 90% of major banks in North America and Europe are experimenting with blockchain technology now. Early adopters include Nasdaq, Bank of America and JP Morgan.

Additional examples include Toyota and the United States Postal Service.

Blockchain could also help combat transparency issues in programmatic advertising, Rangaiah said. In fact, IBM is working on a pilot to test programmatic advertising using blockchain to provide transparency about who is involved and how much they are getting paid, he added.

And in August, IBM announced a new blockchain platform and consulting services, as well as group of partners in the food supply chain – including Dole, Driscoll’s, Golden State Foods, Kroger, McCormick and Company, McLane Company, Nestle, Tyson Foods, Unilever and Walmart – who were collaborating to identify where the supply chain can benefit from blockchain, as well as to champion blockchain for the food sector and strengthen consumer confidence in the food system.

According to IBM’s figures, every year, one in ten people fall ill – and 400,000 die – from contaminated food. What’s more, it can take weeks to identify the precise point of contamination, causing further illness, lost revenue and wasted product.

But, IBM says, blockchain is ideally suited to address those challenges.

“In the case of the global food supply chain, all participants – growers, suppliers, processors, distributors, retailers, regulators and consumers – can gain permissioned access to known and trusted information regarding the origin and state of food for their transactions,” IBM said. “This can enable food providers and other members of the ecosystem to use a blockchain network to trace contaminated product to its source in a short amount of time to ensure safe removal from store shelves and stem the spread of illnesses.”

SAP, on the other hand, is offering a blockchain-as-a-service (BaaS) pilot to give customers an easy way to experiment with the technology. Participants include Here, which provides mapping data and location technology; Maple Leaf Foods, a consumer packaged meats company; and British American Tobacco.

In November, SAP said 27 partners have joined its blockchain co-innovation initiative, which seeks to integrate the digital ledger system into the Internet of Things, manufacturing and digital supply chain solutions using the SAP Cloud Platform Blockchain service. Participating companies hail from the consumer products, telecom, retail, pharmaceuticals, logistics, agriculture, high tech, aerospace and defense, industrial machinery, energy and utilities and public services industries.

“At Deutsche Telekom, we see a big potential for blockchain technology in the telecommunication business,” said Hartmut Mueller, senior vice president of business solutions at Deutsche Telekom IT, in a statement. “Our cooperation with SAP will speed up digitalization to the benefit of our customers.”

Similarly, Joe Peraino, director of the Center of Excellence at Benjamin Moore & Co., said in the release, “Benjamin Moore & Co. is interested in exploring blockchain technology to streamline operations and improve efficiencies throughout our supply chain. Our company is particularly eager to explore possibilities with transportation management and simplify the complexities that exist in today’s paper-based systems.”

SAP also said it will join Spain’s Alastria Consortium and the Blockchain in Trucking Alliance (BiTA) to further expand the adoption of blockchain. Alastria, which brings together banks, telecom providers, energy companies, universities, smart city organizations and developers, will allow SAP to strengthen its blockchain ecosystem and network in Europe, the software company added.

What’s your take on blockchain? Are you using it yet? Is it on your roadmap for 2018?