Home > Visualisations > Infographic Investigated – Style over Substance

Infographic Investigated – Style over Substance

A look at the data behind a recent infographic that did the rounds on Twitter. Not quite what it seems.

I love infographics. They just look so darn good. And yet… I’ve always been quite sceptical about them, so today I’ve dissected one of this week’s popular infographics to see what’s behind it. Quite revealing.

You may have seen the infographic – it’s about students’ use of smartphones.  JISC was one of many that tweeted it to their network:

Screenshot of JISC Tweethttps://twitter.com/Jisc/status/362499544505786369

The original infographic was created by The Snugg, a company that sells smartphone & tablet covers & the infographic appeared in a post Students spend their lives wired in to their phones on 13th June. However the tweets I read this week were all linking to a 17th July post This Is How Students Actually Use Smartphones on Edudemic, a US education & technology site which offers “tools, tips, resources, visuals, and guest posts” and claims 1 million visitors a month.

UK or not UK? Students?

The reason this infographic caught my eye was that the Edudemic post stated it was about UK students and this was highlighted in several of the tweets. The infographic & the Snugg post includes money in £s and refers to UK phone networks. BUT when you delve deeper the source data is actually a mix of US & UK data and not all about students.

Data Sources

The Snugg infographic includes a list of sources. Handy. As it’s an image, the links are not clickable and some are a pain to type. Not so handy.

SNUGG Infograph

Unfortuanately one of the sites (3. below) is unavailable. This is a shame as the other 4 sources appear to contribute very little to the infographic.

  1. http://www.oncampuspromotions.co.uk/2011/07/students-mobile-phone-habits-and-usage/ As the URL shows this is a 2011 article. Click through and you’ll see it’s a 7 question survey of 100 1st & 2nd students. I can’t find any of this data in the infographic, in fact it seems to contradict it but then it is 2-years old! 😉
  2. https://fb-public.app.box.com/s/3iq5x6uwnqtq7ki4q8wk This is a market research report by IDC on behalf of Facebook. It’s a survey of 7,446 US smartphone owners, aged 18-44 undertaken in March 2013. Note the age. The report includes some 18-24 data but IDC state that 18-24 year olds were under-represented. No mention of students. The data at the top of the infographic about how quickly 18-24 year olds reach for their smartphone comes from here. That seems to be all.
  3. http://testkitchen.colorado.edu/projects/reports/smartphone/smartphone-survey/ This site is currently unavailable. Potentially the main source of the infographic. I’ve not been able to find out much about Colorado’s Digital Media Test Kitchen (there’s a 2011 article and they posted on Facebook in May 2012). It’s possible that the survey is from 2010 as I found this reference (see [15]) that refers to a survey with a similar URL. But impossible to know. Given that it’s based in Boulder Colorado it seems more likely that this is US data. Update 5/8/2013 – See comment below from Emma Tonkin. It is a 2010 survey and I’m struggling to see how it informs the infographic.
  4. http://www.savethestudent.org/money/student-budgeting/what-do-students-spend-their-money-on.html This post is based on a 2012 student finance survey of 2,219 UK university students. The only figure I can spot in the infographic that comes from here is the £24 a month spend on mobile phones.
  5. http://www.mobot.net/cost-repair-blackberry-screen/ My favourite ‘source’. A discussion post. Doesn’t appear to contribute to the infographic (other than as a source!). Thankfully.

I’ve always been sceptical of this kind of technology / social media infographic but the lack of data behind this one has really surprised me, although until I see the testkitchen survey I should reserve full judgement…

Update 5/8/2013 – having now browsed the archived site of testkitchen’s 2010 survey I think I can conclude that:

  • Hardly any of the information in the infographic comes from the cited sources – I make it 2 items.
  • The only item in the infographic from a cited source about UK students is that they spend £24 a month on mobile phone (2012).

Another quick search this morning  tells me that the real source of some of this data appears to be a 2011 survey done at the University of Sheffield! http://shef.ac.uk/polopoly_fs/1.103665!/file/mobilesurvey2011.pdf

I reckon infographic investigation would make a great student activity.

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  1. Emma Tonkin
    August 2, 2013 at 10:25 am

    The testkitchen.colorado.edu site is available on archive.org.

    The survey they report is from March 1, 2010, to April 18, 2010 and included results from ‘517 students attending the University of Colorado and several other colleges and universities around the U.S.’ It focuses specifically on smartphones. Questions included: demographics, smartphone ownership, how often you use your smartphone in various situations (bed, bus, store etc), do you use your smartphone while listening to music, watching tv, on toilet etc, how often you consume different media on your smartphone (podcasts, audiobooks, soc networks, books, text messaging etc), what content you create on your smartphone (photos etc), whether/how much you consume news, in what format and using which app.

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