Viewer's Choice: A World of Terror.
A presentation by Gautam Krishnan at University of Illinois at Chicago.

Overview

The visualization that I have chosen to present today is 'A World of Terror', made by Periscopic, a data visualization firm that helps companies and organizations promote information transparency and public awareness. The figure on the right shows a snapshot of the entire application. It maps the reach, frequency, and impact of the most active terrorist entities around the world.

1. Controls

The application has various controls and the first one is the time slider [Fig 2], located on the left. The years are adjustable using the sliders on the left and the right and the year is reflected on the labels on the sides. It also changes the timeline of the various graphs on the center area that is shown above.

There are a set of ordering controls [Fig 3] that are situated on the top. These controls order all the terrorist group graphs by the following orders: Longest active time, Recent activity, Most victims, Geographic spread, Alphabetical.

Hovering on a specific terror group listing brings up a tooltip [As shown in Fig 4] and clicking on the same updates the graph on the right and the map showing its real impact.

2. Data

The data for this application is taken from The Global Terrorism Database (GTD). It is an open-source database including information on terrorist events around the world from 1970 through 2014. For each GTD incident, information is available on the date and location of the incident, the weapons used and nature of the target, the number of casualties, and when identifiable, the group or individual responsible. Link to GTD website.

3. Features

Clicking on the graph of any terror group brings up a graph on the left that shows the number of incidents by year. It also represents the number of people killed and wounded using various colors and in absolute numbers. On top of the graph sits a map that shows the actual area that is affected by the particular group and its influence. On the map, darker areas show the actual presence and the lighter areas show the affected areas.

On the top, the ordering controls orders the terror groups according to the various options as mentioned above. The 'verified' checkbox shows only the killed/wounded count that was verified by the particular government agencies.

The slider on the left changes the timelines of all the graphs on the page.

Critique

1. What's Good

The color representations of the killed and wounded are differentiated well and can be seen even in the small, zoomed-out view. Clicking on the ordering controls on the top orders the graph in a very subtle and smooth animation. Updating the map on clicking the individual terror group's name is a great feature that allows the user to actually see the areas where it has affected the people.

The bar charts look precise and show the number of affected people very accurately. The 'verified' feature is nice to have to see how many of these incidents have actually been recognized.

2. What needs to be improved

The look and feel of the application is really old and the background of the page looks very antique. In the age of flat websites, this looks out of place. The fonts are very small and it might be tough to read for users with slight visual impairment. The entire application could have been spread out better on a wider screen, allowing it to take up the entire screen space rather than having a fixed width.

Regarding the controls of the application, the Slider on the left doesn't look like a control. The buttons on the top could have been designed better to give the look and feel of a 'button'. Having both tooltip and a click function confuses the user if there's any click action involved.

The affected countries have not been specified and only the borders are specified. On using the slider, the date range changes and hides the remanining dates. A better feature to have would have been expanding the time range to accommodate the bar chart to 100% of its original width. This would have allowed the users to inspect the particular graph more closely. The axes are not scalable and the data is not groupable (like by 5 year intervals), so it offers mostly a single perspective of data, without offering much control to the users.

The Audience

The people using 'A World of Terror' would be journalists, history enthusiasts, authors, political and historical researchers and people who systematically study terrorism, its responses and political problems. The application isn't mobile friendly, and not very user friendly.

The questions that might be asked by these people would be:

1. Which countries are affected by the particular terror group?
2. Which country is host to the particular terror group?
3. How many incidents have happened in the past, carried out by the particular group?
4. How many people have been killed or injured by these incidents?
5. Have these numbers been verified by government agencies?
6. How do these terror groups compare to each other?
7. Which terror groups have been active for the longest time?
8. Which terror groups have carried out most number of incidents causing most casualty?
9. Which terror groups have the most recent activity?
10. Which of them have the maximum geographic area?

Analysis

A World of Terror is a graphical look at the 25 most impactful terrorist organizations since 1970, as defined by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). START's Global Terrorism Database (GTD) includes incident-level data from open data sources around the world, spanning over 40 years.

Though the GTD has information for 3,065 groups, roughly half are perpetrators of only one incident. To determine the top 25 organizations who used terrorist tactics, the identified groups were with respect to the most recorded kills, wounded, and incidents; adding incidents made sure all actions were accounted for, including those that neither wounded nor killed.

These 3 lists were compiled and then the top organizations from each were used to generate the final set. Most of these organizations were in the top 30 for all 3 categories. While these 25 are less than 1% of all groups in the database, they account for over 26% of the 125,087 total incidents, and not surprisingly, contain several of the groups that are most active today.

Evolution of Groups: Many organizations evolve and change names, dissolve, or form splinter groups. Working with experts at START, the historical data was grouped into what they are commonly known as today. Two notable examples of this are:

ISIS: Tawhid and Jihad, Al-Qa'ida in Iraq, Islamic State of Iraq, and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are combined under the name ISIS. These are all the same group, but underwent name changes as it evolved over time. Although there were reportedly other smaller insurgent groups involved in the IS umbrella, these are commonly considered to be a (somewhat messy) evolution of the same organization.

FDN: The Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN) became part of the Nicaraguan Resistance umbrella group, and are thus grouped together. There were other contra groups involved in this alliance as well, but to simplify, these two very active groups have been used.

Interesting Findings

1. The data for the year 1993 is missing, the year in which the World Trade Center bombings were carried out. This incident injured over a 1000 people, and has not been covered in the visualization. This would also affect the ordering of the data.

2. The only organizations to have carried out incidents on the US soil are Provincial Irish Republican Army (IRA), Al-Qaeda and Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP).

3. Hizballah has the maximum geographic spread, while having carried out very less number of incidents.

4. The terror group that has been active for the longest period of time is Basque Fatherland and Freedom (ETA), which has carried out operations from 1970s (Start of the data) to 2011.

5. The terror group that has been active for the longest period of time that is still in existence is Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

6. Shining Path (Peru) has killed the most number of people, closely followed by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and Taliban.

Demo