Look, I’m no chemist. I did standard chemistry classes as an undergraduate students, and delved in through my major in Geology (what do you think rocks are made of?), courses in Geochemistry, did I take PChem?

What I do remember is my 10th grade Chemistry teacher, Blooma Friedman, would not put up with any scientific nonsense.

Every then and now, some image will be passed around on social media, where someone has taken a collection of related items, abbreviated them, put them in boxes, colored in a few, and called it a Periodic Table.

The latest is a Periodic Table of Ed Tech (missing the Audrey-Hyphen) from some outfit called CB Insights:

It looks so scienc-y

It looks so scienc-y

It looks like the Periodic Table of Elements. It has rows of boxes with alphabetic symbols. Groups of them are color coded.

To visualize the breadth and depth of the ed tech landscape, we used CB Insights data and analytics to create a periodic table of ed tech startups and investors. The table below covers startups targeting a variety of ed tech categories, as well as top exits and top investors in the space

What data is shown here? They put 130 companies in a chart and colored it in.

I rather enjoy that the location of Lanthanide series (bottom two rows) are “largest investors” and “top exits” (whatever that means). In the Periodic Table of the Elements, these are the “rare earth” elements, though they are not extremely rare. Rather fitting, if you have the Insights to look crap up on Wikipedia, you find that these “largest investors” and “top exits” are located in a place that:

could be interpreted to reflect a sense of elusiveness on the part of these elements, as it comes from the Greek ????????? (lanthanein), “to lie hidden”.

But let’s go to school. Read along with me.

The periodic table is a tabular arrangement of the chemical elements, ordered by their atomic number (number of protons), electron configurations, and recurring chemical properties. This ordering shows periodic trends, such as elements with similar behavior in the same column.

There is a logic to the structure, not just a bunch of pretty boxes. The order of the elements has meaning— it is by increasing atomic number, or the number of protons in the nucleus of the element’s atomic structure.

The reason it is even called a periodic table is because of the repeating periodic patterns that are related to the number of electrons in their outermost “shell” — the columns or groups have meaning, they all have the same number of electrons on that shell, and these repeat in the same pattern as you go across the rows (or periods).

The periodic table can be used to derive relationships between the properties of the elements, and predict the properties of new elements yet to be discovered or synthesized. The periodic table provides a useful framework for analyzing chemical behavior, and is widely used in chemistry and other sciences.

Mendeleev did not just put elements where they might look nice, it’s a great bit of scientific thinking, he arranged all the known elements by these characteristics, what was genius is he was able to predict the properties of elements that had not yet been discovered.

CB Insights has a whole slow of these. But do us a favor, if you are trying to show us groups of companies or technologies that have commonalities, draw a freaking Venn diagram.

They are not the only ones out there that try to make stuff look more sciency. It’s crept into WordPress

At least the Periodic Table of WordPress Plugins has a reason to the order of their elements/plugins, the sequence is by increasing number of downloads. But what is periodic here? That means repeating patterns. You cannot be a Periodic Table without Periodicity, then it’s just a table, and then it really is just a list.

Periodic tables of meat. Periodic Table of Minecraft. Periodic table of Swearing. Periodic Table of M&Ms. Periodic Table of the Empire Strikes Back.

I do like the Periodic Table of Canadian Elements.


Lest you think I am serious… I am a big fan of the Dog Table of the EleMUUTS, and while I can find the Australian Shepherd (As) I cannot find Felix’s other half, Catahoula Leopard Dog (Cl?), so his mix is AsCl.

But if you are going to parade something as like a periodic table, do it in a manner that respects the brilliance of Mendeleev, not just a bunch of letters in boxes.

Top / Featured Image : It’s not even good at meta, but yeah, toss some pictures of tables into colored boxes, and that makes it a periodic table. Found on a site called “Pleated Jeans” with no attribution of any kind. That must make it copyrighted, eh?

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Hear, hear! One of the values of the original periodic table was not just to display what WAS known. But what was unknown. The gaps in the table led people to “look for” the element that would sit in the hole left in the table. It helped predict “properties” it would have, the molecular weight, the number of electrons in the outer shell etc. When researchers discovered a new element they would then make sure it fit the predictions. THAT is the real value of the periodic table,… It tells us where to look and whether or not the thing we found is a THING.

  2. Oh Don Quixote, how you love to tilt at windmills!
    There’s some poor bastard or bastardette in the basement of CB INsights who’s getting minimum wage to crank these out (I see they have several) using Google charts. Management (did you see their group selfie at https://www.cbinsights.com/jobs?
    Not one a day over maybe thirty) is feeling pretty thrilled that someone dreamed up this whole table concept, and they are running with it.
    If they took you seriously, their entire corporate social media platform would dissolve, people would lose jobs, there would be no joy in Mudville. And all because they failed to predict the next exciting Ed tech startup using Mendeleev’s brilliant invention correctly. Sigh.

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