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Using storytelling to discover data


Digital Commerce

September 17, 2013

Each visualization has the potential to unfold what’s hidden behind the data, in its very own way.

When we think of “Data Discovery” (which defines the identity of Oracle Endeca Information Discovery), interaction with data is what comes to mind right away.

Indeed, one of the product’s strengths resides in its ability to crawl unstructured data as well as to capture different kinds of structured data, and aggregate everything into one massive denormalized data source. Therefore, providing data to business users through elegant visualizations and various custom portlets might seem to be the final stage of the process.

But in the end, do we as consultants merely want to deliver data, well-formed charts and guided navigation components? Or do we want to deliver an experience?

The story angle.

Because data represents the initial material, we need to see the components that OEID provides us as tools that make the data come alive. Adopting this angle makes us realize that a discovery application should be seen as a storytelling medium.

Let’s explore what may lie behind this metaphor. In a previous chapter (read: visualization), business users got a glimpse of the story they were creating. Now, as the story unfolds (read: selection or refinement), they see familiar characters and places and (re)discover them with new traits or characteristics.

We want to present the discover application we deliver as a medium that allows users to naturally build stories. The ability to create compelling stories is a fantastic and engaging way that provides a more genuine experience to the business user. It even goes further than that – it creates a personal experience as the user creates a scenario, unfolds new chapters and, as a result, gains new insights.

And that’s the reward the user is seeking – the end of the story – and the feeling that there is an actual, tangible take-away.

Active participation versus passive consumption.

While using an OEID discovery application, business users are not subject to passive consumption of information. They are not being shown slide after slide of static matrixes, charts or numbers. They activate switches, and getting the new and unique insights is the reward. The story is the journey the business user has to create.

Active participation is key. Business users have an understanding of the data they manipulate, and they need to extend this experience.

Challenging them via storytelling is something they will be willing to do because they will see it as a chance to build up insights, and therefore capitalize on previously acquired knowledge.

Provide enough ink

As consultants, providing experiences through discovery applications should be a focus.

However, we also need to make sure we provide enough ink to allow business users to write their own compelling stories. We should be careful that we don’t restrain the story to a couple of chapters – even if the visualizations must be relevant to a particular context, they should be of different natures. We don’t want to restrain the dataset from what it has to offer.

In other words, each visualization has the potential to unfold what’s hidden behind the data, in its very own way. So let’s keep the interactions of diverse natures, and users will be ready to open the book.

Follow Etienne on Twitter @EtienneBaque

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