This Is What $15.3 Trillion of World Trade Looks Like

Two data visualisation researchers have created a site that maps out the entire world's production of goods.

Aug 25 2015, 3:50pm

Image: Screenshot of the Globe of Economic Complexity

World economies can be mind-boggling systems made up of complex chains of supply and demand, buoyed by commodities and fueled by different currencies.

Owen Cornec and Romain Vuillemot, data visualization fellows at Harvard Kennedy School, wanted to reimagine the global spread of goods in a new visualisation. Dubbed the "Globe of Economic Complexity," Cornec and Vuillemot's colorful 3D world portrays cold economic fact as "clouds of confetti."

The Globe of Economic Complexity—an interactive tool—lets users see a country's total trade as well as which products are made, and where in the world they're exported. The map allows specialists and non-specialists alike to explore and understand the world through the production and trade trajectory of commodities. It was inspired by the original Atlas of Economic Complexity, which is a tool used by policymakers to view exports and the economic health of countries."We wanted to find a novel way to convey the scale, diversity, and inequality of world economies using new 3D web technologies, to make these massive amounts of international trade beautiful and understandable," Cornec told me over email.

The data visualization maps out "the entire world production of goods" by visualizing the $15.3 trillion-worth of world exports reached in 2012. One tiny dot equates to $100 million of exports (the "equivalent of 15,0000 swiss watches"). Each color represents a different industry and there are 153,000 dots in total.

Image: Owen Cornec/YouTube

What's fun about the site is that it allows you to explore the similarities and differences in products stemming from different countries. A range of products including "vegetable products," "textiles," and "metals" are listed at the bottom of the site. Click on any given one, and the distribution of where those products are in the world emerges on the world map. The visualization also makes clear that no country can export everything, and that some industries such as machinery will generate more networks around the world as opposed to something like vegetables.

"What surprised me was when dots fall into countries, it creates a dynamic texture that quickly shows that country's economy in a nutshell," explained Cornec. "Libya, Algeria, and Iran are mostly brown, they only export oil. Bangladesh is all green, it only exports textiles and related products. While countries like South Korea and the Netherlands are extremely bright, they export all kinds of products of every color and thus have very healthy economies."

The data for the project was generated with Harvard University's Center for International Development's (CID) 2012 world export data, which originally came from the United Nations Comtrade database. According to the duo's website, the Globe not only shows where products are made and sent to, but it can also "use this information to suggest products a country could begin manufacturing in order to fuel economic growth."