This post was originally published on Richard Ayers’ personal blog.
He looked at me quizzically.
“There are times when you come up with ideas and you’re just not sure whether they’re great – or just shit,” I said. “And sometimes the more you say them, the more they sound like they could be a good idea – but you always wonder if they’re shit and no-one’s telling you. But with this idea, either people I don’t know are being terribly polite, or they’re quietly laughing, but some of them have definitely made encouraging noises.”
More data in Strictly? More sequins in Sport?
I was, of course, talking about datatainment.Hugo Sharman seems like a very nice chap. I don’t think Deltatre North‘s head would laugh in my face or behind my back – but he was looking quizzical. “Why don’t you tell me, when we get to the end of this, whether you think we should be contributing some ideas for datatainment,” he said, because I don’t think he could work out whether it was awanky term for something that’s already being done (and that Deltatre do very nicely for lots of clients including the Uefa match day centres) or whether I meant something else.
The truth is, I don’t know. Yet. But I’m feeling confident that we are going to find something new. It’s all about the entertainment filter.
When you look at football match-day centres, or many other sports for that matter, you are confronted with a lot of data visualisation. If you’re a fan and you love your stats, then it’s entertaining. But for me, it makes me have to work too hard. That’s because I’m not a football fan. When it comes to cricket or rugby, I love the challenge of understanding the information – but it sometimes is a challenge. And there’s definitely a kudos in being the one who knows Dan Carter’s kick conversion rate – but a little like I do wish those annoying IBM ad buffers would shut up, I also get a little bored of stats knowledge being something that divides the audience – splitting it into the know-it-alls and the novices. I have to work too hard to get enjoyment out of data for football … I want it made simple, easy, enjoyable. Perhaps this is the effect of sub-optimal data vis. Maybe better design would make it naturally more engaging. But I think it’s more than that – visualisation can tell stories – but I’m not sure it can entertain in the way I mean.
Nice match centre, shame about the result
Talking to Hugo, I suggested it was the difference between watching the Young Musician of the Year and X Factor. But that’s not right – too much genre change and skill variance alongside the entertainment increase. Maybe it’s the difference betweenCome Dancing and Strictly Come Dancing. No, we do not need more sequins in football. But when they re-invented the ballroom dancing programme a few years back, the BBC did a remarkable thing – they managed to popularise the artform in a way that no-one had done since Strictly Ballroom had pastiched and parodied in the great 1992 Aussie film. You didn’t have to know a passo doble from a samba (I can’t even spell them right), and by pairing celeb novices with experts, they gave it the common touch. No wonder John Sargeant and Ann Widdecombe did so well. The judges are a mixture of amateur and expert – but even Craig whassisface, the most pernickety of the lot, explains the detail of the moves.
They opened up ballroom dancing and welcomed in newcomers who knew nothing – surely something that football (and maybe all sports) could do better – and especially something that data visualisation could do better in sport.
By the time I got to the end of my ramble/rant at Hugo, the quizzical look was gone and had been replaced by a smile. “I have to admit, I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I think you might be right – maybe there’s an editorial entertainment layer there that we are missing.”. So maybe we are onto something.
In a way, the editorial layer I’m talking about is something that tv punditry alongside performance graphics has been doing for a while. Sky are doing more and more of it, the BBC does plenty (and Deltatre provide that) and even the woeful ITV Rugby World Cup commentary tries to give it a whirl with their touchscreen. What I don’t want is a situation, as ITV have, where subject experts, former and current players, give poorly-enunciated opinions while pressing the odd player image on a touchscreen. I want the data, but I want the opinion, expressed entertainingly, and maybe even with some interactive element. And I want it now.