LinkedIn Just Turned You Into a Butterfly


Don’t you think these bizarre new media “visualizations” have gone too far? The picture above is not a map of Africa on Acid, it’s a new LinkedIn product called InMaps. Here is how the company describes it:

“InMaps is an interactive visual representation of your professional universe. With it you can better leverage your professional network to help pass along job opportunities, seek professional advice, gather insights, and more.”

Here is my official review of it:  “Bite me.”

I am so sick of “info-graphics” that make you work for information. Will somebody please hand me a freaking pie chart so I can soothe myself?  What am I supposed to learn from this ridiculous LinkedIn cotton candy butterfly?

Now in all fairness, this illustration does not give credit to the interactive majesty of the real thing. If I hover over a nodule I get somebody’s face. So I all day long I can decorate my butterfly with little pictures of my friends.

Isn’t there anybody at LinkedIn who is thinking “Ya know, this is really dumb. We’re about to embarrass ourselves.”

And while we’re on the subject of visualizations, stop with the damn word clouds people. Here is a word cloud from a blogging blog. Would you have ever guessed that their cloud indicates they write about blogs and blogging? Well, butter my buns and call me a biscuit! Isn’t THAT a surprise?

Here’s another “visualization” showing the power of my Twitter connections.  Like me, I’m sure you’ll spend all day staring at your naval trying to figure this one out …

And let’s not forget the popularity of nodes. When new media really wants to create a chart with impact they node-ify it.  Like this example, they usually put the user in the middle, creating a Zen-like chart that shouts “YES!  In fact the world DOES revolve around you. That’s why we’re on social media in the first place, right?

At the end of the day, we have simply forgotten how to properly display information. The medium is obscuring the message.  Let me demonstrate what a real “info-graphic” is supposed to look like:


See how simple this is? No user’s guide required.  You don’t even have to ‘splain it.  Using information from my own statistically-valid study of Guy Kawasaki, his strategy emerges before our eyes! We can easily see how Guy contributes to the endless fun of the Internet with his intellectual tweets that captivate, stimulate and drive the all-important “conversation.”

For you new media types, I would like to introduce another innovation called the “bar chart.” No nodes, no butterflies, just good ol’ helpful data:

In this example, collected from the latest U.S. census, we see that the people who identify themselves as a “social media guru” in America actually exceeds the current population. Talk about a growth industry!

I hope this lesson in displaying data will help all of you realize that it’s time to return to a simpler life, when we could use statistics to lie about our companies in ways everyone could understand.

I for one have had enough. I’m beginning a new non-profit organization called Better Information Through Charts and Histograms, or BITCH for short.  Please join me, won’t you? Give generously so that I may continue my efforts to stamp out clouds and spyrograph thingys.

Remember my dear friends, before you make a pitch, send money to BITCH.

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  • Oh snap…Schaefer went old school on everybody’s ass. For those of you interested, Im starting the NJ chapter of BITCH and we’re holding weekly meetings every Tuesday nite, my place.

  • Mark – Hmmm. Look up there. In your banner. That last word about humanity…. and you have colorful images of paint spots and things in your banner…. looks a little to me like one of your charts…..

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  • I have the same thoughts of the butterfly thingy! not really sure what its for.
    I need something that tells me if I am doing something right, something like a score board or a number.

    I like numbers, numbers are great. Just like an amount in a bank account. 😛

    Question on inmaps, should our inmaps be round? 😛 means we’re connecting with people aROUND the world 😛

  • This has to be the best review of InMaps I’ve read yet! And amidst the flurry of tweets about people’s own InMaps I have been trying to express a similar view point: how is it useful?! Where’s the actionable data?! And most of all “what does this actually SAY about my network”?! I don’t think anyone actually knows.

    But… let’s not knock LinkedIn too soon, hey? When was the last time you saw something viral from LinkedIn? I loved the buzz it generated. And, yes, it got people experimenting with the LinkedIn share buttons and even “like” on LinkedIn. None of it’s innovative, sure, but baby steps… they’re going in the right direction. But let’s hope for something useful next time….

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  • Anonymous

    Mark, that is beyond classic. BITCH, I love it, so funny. Yes you are totally right I too am sick of all these silly infographics that don’t really mean a lot to a large no. of people!

    Fair play to LinkedIn though trying something different, if it encourages users to engage and network with new people then I’m all for it. Bar & Pie Charts are so sexy when done well!

  • I contribute to BITCH daily. Especially when BITCH is asking for me to read (or rather VIEW) another pretty, shiny object. I hope the BITCH organization will use some of my donations to continue to distract me with it’s fun and empty infographics that do nothing more than grab my attention and take me off task.

  • BITCH is at your service. Wherever there is a crappy graph, we will be there.

  • I actually am a huge fan of LinkedIn. We all can’t be perfect. Thanks for commenting!

  • LinkedIn is a great innovator. I love what they’ve done ( in general) and think is one of the most under-used resoruces out there. But this map thing? Brain cramp. Thanks Joanna!

  • I like your approach — Just tell me what to do. : ) That’s the kind of guidance we need from data today in our very busy worlds. Charts should not TAKE time, they should SAVE time and help you make better decisions. Thanks for your insight Aaron!

  • BUSTED!! You are the first one to pick up on the fact that my banner graphic is indeed a pie chart that I dropped after taking it out of the oven. You win the prize Rick!

  • Thank you Dino. Remember, dues are to be collected by the end of the month. I need the money to start a chapter in Honolulu in February. : ) May the BITCH be with you.

  • Oh Mark,

    You’ve succeeded in causing me to, at the same time, spit out my coffee from laughter and fist pump and say, “hell yeah!”. Finally, someone said it. I’ve be viewing all these “amazing” infographics and thought to myself “WTF” does this mean? I took a few advanced statistics and excel based courses in college, but I literally don’t even know where to begin understanding some of the crap I’ve looked at.

    I’ve kept quiet though. Don’t want to expose myself as the one student in the class that has no idea what’s going on. Likewise, I certainly didn’t want to lose any valuable ‘cool points’ by bringing attention to the fact most of the charts I’ve seen (ie the ones above) are completely useless.

    Isn’t the point of presenting data in a visual chart based format to make it more easily understandable and actionable? I saw one that tried to link the contradictions in the Bible a few weeks back, but I couldn’t tell if I was looking at a chart or the Visualizer function on iTunes. Ahhh. Thanks Mark. I’d be happy to help gander support for a Lowcountry BITCH group down here in Charleston.

    Jamey

  • Good. We’ll name your new South Carolina Chapter: BITCH and Grits.

    I’m never too ashamed to be the one to say, “I don’t get it.” It is my normal state.

    Thanks Jamey. I’ll send you a start-up packet called BITCH BAIT to help you attract new members.

  • I’m in. I asked the question on Twitter a few days ago about the new LinkedIn map and asked if anyone had found anything useful or learned anything from it. So far, nothing in the way of response to it.

    I get the idea behind wanting to map things out like that, but I think the usefulness of the information gets lost in the presentation technology.

    Also, bonus points for the Kawasaki pie chart.

  • Thanks for the support Shane. Your name came up in our BITCH organizational meeting. We have big plans for you my friend.

  • Sorry Mark,

    but you got it all wrong this time (there, attention hooked)
    I love your pie and bar, but LinkedIn InMaps is something that needs to be visualised, and would mean much, much less if brought back to raw data

    Writing a post about this now, but in short it shows the different parts of your network (for me: biz, alumni, high school, ex-colleagues, groups, interests) and, especially, those in between: the linking pins or social cornerstones

    For a really good rant on InfoCrapPics as I call them, read my putdown on the Digital Surgeons Facebook-Twitter that circulated last December: http://www.martijnlinssen.com/2010/12/presentation-and-content-hardly-ever-go.html

  • Thanks for dissenting voice and the link Martijn!

  • Love it. Hopefully no one confuses our name for a restaurant of Far Eastern/ Southern Cuisine. As far as BITCH Bait — I’ve got that well enough handled on my own. My string of ex girlfriends is hard evidence of that. Only kidding — sort of.

    Have a great Friday.

  • Nathanegan

    Nothing could make me happier than even people like Mark Schaefer don’t understand how powerful the LinkedIn visualization is… the implications for business are tremendous and this is just the beginning… Yeah the other graphs are funny but Frankly, Mark, you should be embarrassed, not LinkedIn… I would say more but that would clearly erode the value of the leverage I have with the knowledge of what to do with this type of capability.

  • Carrie Bond

    But the are so pretty. : ) I agree. I shouldn’t have to dig for information to understand the information you thought was important enough to share with me in the first place.

    And I’d like to be considered for VP at BITCH. I have years of experience and will be happy to share my extensive qualifications as a BITCH if you would like to discuss further.

  • Agreed. I don’t want a visualization of my “universe” until the process is perfected and they can give me something that looks like THIS: http://www.geeksix.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/marvel-universe.jpg

  • Gifford Morley-Fletcher

    Great post Mark! Death by diagrams is one of my biggest bugbears. There’s absolutely a place for them, in all their incarnations, but they have to ADD to the experience and ideally facilitate understanding where words don’t work or can be complemented. When a diagram becomes so complicated that it too needs a guide – ie more words – it’s totally useless. I can’t see how the LinkedIn ‘butterfly’ helps me understand my network better, but maybe others will…

  • Not to carp or anything, Mark, but mine looks more like a fish. 😛

    Relationship mapping is very big in my field, but there’s no tool out there (yet) that goes beyond ‘Really Pretty and Useless’ or ‘Really Ugly and Also Fairly Useless.’ I hope soon we’ll get to something that’s actually visually appealing and incredibly useful but while people are getting the code right we’re stuck in “oooh, look at the pretty colors” land. Thanks for talking about this, Mark!

  • Thanks for joining in the FUN Nathan. : )

  • Clearly you are well-qualified. Welcome aboard.

  • Oh that is too funny. Thanks for sharing!

  • Thanks for taking the time to comment Giff!

  • Your diagram looks like a fish? Then what’s the porpoise?

  • You know me Mark 😉 and as always you take that so well.

    Finished my post, it’s here: http://www.martijnlinssen.com/2011/01/inmaps-priceless-gem.html
    Bottom-line: useful tool for midsize networks

  • Oh Mark. I love you. I’d butter your buns any day.

    This post made my day. (And incidentally, has me now craving cotton candy). Thanks for telling it like it is.

  • Mark – Another great post. Your Twitter connections visualizer now has me looking for my old Spirograph kit in the attic! K.I.S.S.

  • Johnny Russo

    Oh my God. This totally made my Friday. Classic! This was a bitchin’ post.

  • Quay Morris

    THANK YOU. Oh God, I thought I was the only one who didn’t understand those things. Yeah, they’re pretty little things, aren’t they? I just get this overwhelming feeling that they don’t tell me anything … Word clouds are the worst imo. I don’t care; I just simply don’t care. Stop trying to link bait or fill up a post or whatever it is you’re trying to do. A huge perpetrator of infographic overload syndrome: Mashable.

  • Nancy Davis

    Oh my God! I laughed so hard I am lucky I didn’t spill my water all over my keyboard! Another really great post Mark.

  • Epic. Just epic. And here’s my reaction in acronym style: L.O.L.

    I love LinkedIn – huge fan. I tried the visualization a few days ago. My reaction: Pfft. So what?

    They give you this: “…With it you can better leverage your professional network to help pass along job opportunities, seek professional advice, gather insights, and more.”

    Okay. How? How will this help me? I see that some of my contacts are green dots, some are blue, and…so what? How will THIS help me send insights to others beyond how I do it already? How will this make my life better/easier/happier? I’m not seeing it. And here’s the thing: No one has yet to explain this to me.

    I like infographics – I think they’re fun to look at. But the designers need to provide more purpose behind them – don’t just make a pretty picture and tell me that it will help me. You have to explain to me why this will help me, and give me an example.

    Otherwise it’s worthless.

  • Coming from the queen of Internet comedy, that is high praise!! Thanks Jen!

  • It would have been funny to actually do a spyrograph thing as a comparison. : )

  • Glad you liked it Johnny. Thanks for taking the time out of your day to tell me!

  • Well said. Thanks for your perspective Ms. Morris!

  • Thanks for taking the time to say so Nancy. I appreciate it!

  • Thanks. Agree on all points. Thanks for the excellent comment!

  • Jlfeld

    Love this post, Mark. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

  • Nathanegan

    INCREDIBLE value Mark… and yeah yeah I know you are a fan of LinkedIn… fun times on Mark’s blog!

  • I have no clue how I came across your blog post. But I’m wicked glad I did. I was dying laughing the whole time reading this and at the same time saying. Wow he is 100% right, what the heck do all those graphs have to do with the price of tea in china. Thanks for posting. I like your thoughts.

  • Well said. Thanks!

  • Well I’m glad you found me. Hope you’ll stick around : )

  • Marlene Franke

    Mark, I am with James below. I nearly choked to death laughing so hard. But you are right. I love a good graph or chart that makes a point. But sorry, social media experts, for the love of God in Heaven, stick to your blogs and tweets and leave the graphs to the accountants.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Ha! Mission accomplished if I made you laugh. Thanks!

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  • Hi Mark – I did laugh out loud, and I especially liked the simple pie chart on Guy Kawasaki’s Tweets – but I do have to disagree about your assessment on InMaps.

    How can you expect a graphic that is a “map” of your Personal Network to be simplified by anyone else but YOU? InMaps has created a map – and you have to decide where you want to go. It’s like logging on to Googlemaps and saying – that’s a great map of the US, very pretty, what does it mean! You’d plan a route – or zoom in to find what was near that house you were thinking of buying.

    It’s early days of this idea of Personal Network mapping – and LinkedIn’s efforts are a good first step (in my opinion). However, there are real weaknesses – for example LinkedIn only connects to 11% of my contacts and 71% of those are weak ties. At the moment, the map’s a bit like the US – with 5 states fully mapped and 10 states partially mapped (without many of the roads on!).

    Great post – and I will watch my infographics choice carefully in the future … just in case you and your BITCHes come after me…

  • Thanks for the dissenting perspective. Much appreciated!

  • There is nothing I can really add to this that’s not already been said, I just needed to say that. Well done!!!! Finally, people are starting to react to all this graphical pollution that actually takes away from the important message being delivered.

  • Anonymous

    Since some of you can’t figure out this visualization will help, let me explain it in simple terms: it shows you how your LinkedIn connection are grouped and how they’re connected to others. You can use it to figure out which areas need more connections, where you have connections you can connect for mutual benefit.

  • Anonymous

    Now that I’ve cleaned myself up…is there anyone here who has done the LinkedIn graphic of their connections and not been able to label the colors with each of the jobs they’ve had? When you worked for a big company was the color splotch big? When the company small was the splotch more of a polka-dot?
    My mind- melding prediction: the more jobs you’ve had the more colorful your butterfly. The longer you’ve stayed with a company the more intensly colored your butterfly.

    Now, whose sent theirs to the printer for framing? ( or is it reserved for the back side of your new business card)

  • You might try googling the topic. I know there have been a few reviews written. Thanks Carla.

  • Thanks very much Michael.

  • Thanks for taking the time to comment, Steve!

  • I love your review! It’s like my review of “semi net neutrality.” I believe I called it bogus. Please tell me where I can send my money! I’ll send it all!

  • I love this. I thought the same thing when i saw all the other bloggers drooling over this “useful” new LinkedIn graphic. I looked at it and saw…NOTHING. It’s cool for about 30 seconds. We talk about writing content that is concise and easy to digest, and yet we create infographics that make a muddy mess of things.

  • Thanks for adding your perspective, Ken!

  • Now we’re talking! Thanks Gini!

  • THANK you Mark for calling the BS card when it shows up. I think one drawback of SM is that we get obsessed with the tools, before the function of the goal. Which function do these LinkedIn maps achieve?
    Seriously ‘ leverage your professional network to help pass along job opportunities, seek professional advice, gather insights, and more.” This reads like LinkedIn’s mission statement, it has nothing to do with these maps.
    I posted some time about LinkedIn trying to evangelize European users to sign up to LinkedIn with the BrandYou marketing campaign, which after a 10 question quiz gave out 5 possible brands for LinkedIn users (global guru, alternative thinker,etc..).
    The new mapping sounds a lot like another gimmick to get some column inches.

  • Very interesting observation. I did not know about that European thing although I knew LinkedIn was pushing hard. Their problem is engagement. The typical LinkedIn user as a profile and then never goes back except when their job changes or they are looking for a job. It is a powerful and under-utilized platform so i see how maps like this are aimed at drawing people in.

    Thanks for the interesting contribution John!

  • www.therextras.com

    Thanks! I needed that!

    Barbara

  • You’re most welcome!

  • “it’s time to return to a simpler life, when we could use statistics to lie about our companies in ways everyone could understand.” Bwahahaha. Love this!

    I have to say that infographics make me giddy. When I first saw that image I thought… “ooooo, how pretty!” I probably should have been thinking “what the heck is this supposed to be showing me”, but I’m a sucker for an aesthetically pleasing graph – even the useless kind.

  • I’m a data junkie and actually love new ways to present information but I think we also have to step back sometimes and apply some critical thinking to the Interwebs! Thanks Elyse!

  • Outstanding. Good job.

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  • Anonymous

    LOL. I actually find LinkedIn’s new visualizer quite interesting and useful. Here’s my take:
    http://www.mdurwin.com/2011/02/a-visualization-is-worth-a-thousand-words/

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Well done Michael, but I remain uncovinced : ) It’s colorful, it’s nifty, some people have big nodes. Where’s the insight?

  • Anonymous

    The insight comes from being aware of where you’re network is light and could stand from bulking up. As I post in my blog, not being able to add more labels makes organizing tough. But should I lose my job, I can very easily go to my map, and go directly to my group of recruiters. As a matter of fact that’s exactly what I did several months ago on a Friday. I had a contract on Monday.
    Say I want to host an event, I can easily see who the most connected people are and invite them.

  • Well, I’m glad the map works for you. The system seemed to work for you equally with or without the map but I certainly acknowledge that everybody thinks differently and I celebrate those differences!

  • Mark, I made a map, labeled it, tweeted that it was pretty but doubted it’s usefulness. And have not thought about it since. *shrugs* The pie chart of uselessness (Guy tweets) and BITCH group, that cracked. me. up. I’m all for infographics that tell a story, share info in a compelling and easy to understand way, when the graphic relates the information better than words can. The rest is just “clever” designers or programmers w/ too much time on their hands. FWIW.

  • Thanks for contributing to the discussion Davina!

  • Your two word review was classic. “Bite me” indeed. I’ve been wondering what the deal was with all these ridiculous visual representations. One in particular from some guru who is offering a blueprint for successful Internet marketing. I thought it was a blueprint for having a seizure. I mean, can’t people say what they mean? As soon as I see something so convoluted, I click the mouse and move on.

  • Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for adding your comment today : )

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