India in Pixels is a data visualization based YouTube channel that explores India through the lens of data. Each video covers a particular field such as politics, economy, sports or demography and illustrates the trend that happened in that field for over 50-100 years and summarizes it in 4-5 minutes as animated racing bar graphs – entirely generated through code. The data is publically available but is not consumable in its raw form. India in Pixels is an attempt to convey the essence of the data without artificial distortions that introduce bias and yet make it interesting.
India in Pixels was launched in March 2019. As of January 2020, it has garnered 16 Million Net Views and 73,000 subscribers. This is a testament to the huge appetite people have for quality data visualization. The comment section has created a national platform for discussions and debates around social trends backed by data. People have been using arguments like “If you notice in the 90s, Karnataka took a huge leap in its GDP while Uttar Pradesh plunged down to 4 places – most likely the impact of the IT Revolution in India” – this is a huge leap in making data driven conversations a living reality.
India in Pixels is helping educate millions of Indians about data visualization and is creating a new kind of audience from developing nations who are not just aware of data viz but are actively involved in it. Other than videos, I am also creating static images of maps, charts, and data-art that have also resonated with a lot of people. The visualization “Second most spoken language in every state of India” turned viral garnering over 700 retweets, including one from the Bollywood actress Sonam Kapoor. I have actively worked towards creating a community of involved data viz lovers interested in seeing India through multiple perspectives. It has inspired them to create their own creations and posts and getting started in the world of data viz.
As I see it, India in Pixels is news for the millenials – the young Indians who need a heavy visual component to engage with their content. But unlike mainstream millenial news, India in Pixels does not patronize its audience through clickbaits and opinions – every piece released is linked with hard verifiable publically accessible data.
I use Python (in the Jupyter lab environment) for fetching data from public sources. I use the BeautifulSoup package to extract content from the fetched data. Usually, if the dataset requires additional cleaning, I use pandas to help normalize values and extrapolate missing values.
What was the hardest part of this project?
India is a mobile-first nation: 90% of India’s internet users use mobile phones. Quality data viz relies on interaction, computation and manipulation of data. Having worked in India’s leading newspaper Hindustan Times as a data journalist, I know the kind of constraints that come when making visualizations for mobile. Not a lot of computation can be done on the frontend and responsiveness limits a lot of fancy animation that can be done. An additional challenge that comes with India is that we have just started to get familiar with the web as a medium of expression, so a huge chunk of Indian demography isn’t familiar with complex gestures and interactions that can be done on the Web. Thus, keeping these aspects in mind, I have consciously chosen to use YouTube as the final output of my work. Not only is it familiar but the platform also takes care of making the visualization responsive for all devices. What I lose on interactivity, I gain with an active comment section where people can engage, participate and truly make the visualization their own. India in Pixels is a proof of concept to all the data visualizers around the globe to try a “Video First” approach in their data stories to reach a wider audience who gets left out because of the medium, either because of device compatibility issues or the lack of technical know-how to interact with a data viz. India in Pixels deserves to win the Sigma Award because it is true to the core of what good journalism should be – inclusive and unbiased. It is making active attempts to include and engage a wide section of the globe that has never come across visual journalism yet. Awarding India in Pixels the Sigma Award 2020 will recognize the spirit of journalism
What can others learn from this project?
I am not a journalist by profession. I am a software engineer. The first thing anyone can learn is to not assume that “journalism is not for me!”. Journalism is an extremely dynamic field and India in Pixels is a testament to this fact. There is ample space for technology to create new pathways for journalism and this project should be seen as a proof of concept for that. It is possible to engage 16 Million eyes using just one laptop and a curious mind.
Second, do not let your medium be an obstacle. Think how will people consume your content? Are they familiar with the terminologies you are making? Do they know how to use the gestures you want them to use? Is it too intensive for their phones that not have the best computing and internet abilities? India in Pixels was mindful of all these constraints and arrived at a video-first approach to data journalism. I think creators will benefit from thinking about their target audience before they make their creations.
Third, there are more people beyond the First world nations! As an Indian, I feel let down by how little space 70% of the world gets in hard cutting edge data viz. There are lot of people hungry to consume content that is not just about the US or Canada or Europe. People in Mexico want to know what GDP of Guadalajara is, people in Pakistan want to know how did their literacy rate change over time. These topics are going to be of key importance in the near future when most young internet users are going to be in developing nations and I think creators will gain tremendously by focusing on them.