It Takes More than a Good Name (or including ‘Good’ in your name)

Let me begin by explaining the title of this piece. I recently ran across a blog article about something called the “Data Visualization Competency Center (DVCC).” Given the fact that I spend my time helping people develop data visualization competency, this caught my interest. As I read the article, I found myself saying “Yes” to a few of the author’s points, but I had to take a detour when I read that the DVCC was sponsored by a cloud-based business intelligence (BI) service provider named “GoodData.” This company was not on my radar, so I quickly accessed its website to get a sense of its work. It took no more than a minute to realize that GoodData knows little about data visualization and certainly doesn’t support data visualization competency. Many examples of its visualizations were poorly designed. In other words, its visualizations are typical of BI software—typically bad. There should be a rule that you can only include “good” in your name if you do good work. Then again, marketing is all about making claims that are seldom true. The author of the article, Lindy Ryan, does not work for GoodData, but is instead the “Research Director of Data Discovery and Visualization” for a BI consultancy named Radiant Advisors. Ms. Ryan recently wrote a report titled “The Data Visualization Competency Center: Balancing Art, Science and Culture,” which advocates an extension of the “Business Intelligence Competency Center (BICC)” to improve the use of data visualization within businesses. In respect to data visualization, Radiant Advisors fits its name only if by “radiant” you mean “shiny,” as in, “The light reflecting off of that street sign is so shiny I can’t read it.” Snarky comments aside, let me get to the point of this blog piece: most of the people and organizations who proclaim expertise in data visualization are not experts. Even worse, many of them sell snake oil. Don’t be deceived. If you want to learn about data visualization and put it to good use, take care in choosing your advisors.

A little more background will add texture to this story. When I read Ryan’s article and saw that she associated GoodData with the Data Visualization Competency Center, I immediately responded by commenting that GoodData does not support data visualization best practices. After some brief back and forth between us in the blog, she suggested that we take the discussion offline. After a few days, rather than hearing from Ms. Ryan, out of the blue I received an email from the PR agency that represents GoodData requesting that I work with them on a research project. Hmmm…I’ve had this experience before. On more than one occasion after pointing out problems with a product, I’ve soon afterwards received an offer of work from the offending vendor. If a vendor came to me in response to a negative review and genuinely asked for help in improving their products, I would be happy to oblige. I am not, however, open to bribes.

After turning down GoodData’s suspicious offer, I finally heard from Ms. Ryan. She seemed quite nice, but she knows little about data visualization, which she readily admitted. Why then is she a Data Visualization Research Director and why does she advise organizations about their use of data visualization? And, even more fundamentally, how is she qualified to develop a Data Visualization Competency Center? She isn’t. This concerns me because Ms. Ryan isn’t unique. Most of the people who set themselves up as data visualization leaders and advisors are not qualified. It has become business as usual to make fraudulent claims. This won’t change if we fail to expose them.

Take care,


6 Comments on “It Takes More than a Good Name (or including ‘Good’ in your name)”

By David Shea. August 8th, 2015 at 5:54 pm

As a data visualization enthusiast I applaud your calling out of so called experts. People that truly appreciate the power of a well crafted visualization understand that it is a craft, not a macro or widget.

By Jason. August 8th, 2015 at 6:40 pm

Nice work uncovering this marketing front operation. Unfortunately the rise of the cloud, while great for computing in general, has brought with it a scourge of fly by night BI companies like GoodData. Now anyone can write some code, throw it up on AWS and overnight proclaim to be a BI company.

By Stephen Few. August 8th, 2015 at 7:06 pm


Unfortunately, this didn’t begin with the cloud. The vast majority of BI companies that have emerged since the term BI was coined don’t deserve to exist.

By Wayne. August 11th, 2015 at 6:02 am

Great blog post, we are currently in talks in setting up a DVCC and that white paper was heavily referenced, as well as webinars (assuming with Radiant). As a visualization developer, I would be a part of this new team/cohort group/whatever shape it takes. Your post will help me steer the conversation away from the Radiant wp and any potential ‘throw a bucket of money at consultants’ approach that may come up. So, thanks!

By Jorge Camoes. August 11th, 2015 at 4:35 pm

Steve, I recently came across a blog post at that is nothing more than a string of errors. Not something that we can disagree with, like the usual debate of effectiveness vs. eye candy, but something at a deeper level (a time series in a doughnut is one of the examples).

The author is an “SEO expert” and that’s the key to understand the post. It doesn’t really matters how bad the content is, provided it contains pictures and the right set of keywords to get pageviews and ad impressions.

Writing a “white paper” is a common marketing/SEO strategy to build a mailing list. Again, the content doesn’t matter, as long as you get an email address. To read Radiant Advisors’ white paper you have to provide your name, email and job title. Not bad.

In both cases, they are operating under a different logic than everyone who cares about data visualization. They will not care about your petty concerns or how damaging their activities are. Exposing this business-as-usual becomes an unrewarding full time job. They just jump from keyword to keyword.

After so many years reading your blog and your books (and often misreading them…), I still don’t see where you draw the line and let it go, and assume that there will be due diligence by the potential client/victim. Not that this was the right time to draw it.

By the way, this reminded me of one of you funniest posts, “Taunts from the playground” (I will not tell you the keyword I used to find it). Link-baited, Part II?

By Stephen Few. August 11th, 2015 at 7:45 pm


I suspect that I have been link-baited a few times over the years. This wasn’t Radiant Advisors’ intention, however. The fact that you’re bringing this up is ironic. Perhaps no one has more successfully link-baited me than you have, but that was several years ago.

I’ve always struggled to draw the line between harmful content that deserves a response and that which is better left alone. As you’ve probably observed, where I draw the line does not follow a strict set of rules. You’re absolutely right that my time would be uselessly frittered away if I responded to every bit of bad content that I encounter. I decided to expose Radiant Advisors because they are fairly visible in the business intelligence space, as the comment above by Wayne confirms.

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