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August 29 2012

09:29

July 20 2011

14:31

Dotspotting + Embeds = Great Maps of Prisons, Crime, Pavement Dots

There are three basic parts to working with online representations of urban civic data in Dotspotting: collating the data, manipulating it, and then sharing and publishing it. Up until now, we've been focused on the first two, which makes sense. Obviously you need to be able to gather and work with the data before you can share it.

Today we're announcing the inclusion of the project's most requested feature: embedding the maps that people make into sites of their own.

Dotspotting makes tools to help people gather data about cities and make that information more legible. It's the first project Stamen released as part of Citytracking, a project funded by the Knight News Challenge.

Dotspotting's "embed/export" feature has been reworked to include the ability to generate HTML code that you can configure to your own specs, depending on how your site is formatted. Basic embed code is available in default mode, which will generate a map that looks pretty much the way it does on Dotspotting:

California state prisons on Dotspotting

There are a couple of different options in embed; so, for example, you can swap out the normal toner cartography for Bing's new (awesome) map tiles:

California state prisons on Dotspotting

We've been working with Mission Local, a news organization that reports on our home base of the Mission District, to find ways to take the lessons learned from the Crimespotting project and give this ability to local publications and advocates. The crime theme we've developed with them lets you generate maps that look like the one below, if you provide a "crime type" value in your data:

Crime June 21-28 updated on Dotspotting

And my favorite so far is the photo theme, which takes a "flickr:id" or "photo_url" field from your data (say, a set on flickr) and generates a visual mapping of where the photos are:

Dots on the pavement from flickr on Dotspotting

We're planning on releasing more of these as time goes by; if you've got ideas for a theme you'd like to see, please upload some data and get in touch!

March 11 2011

15:00

Why Hasn't LA Weekly Corrected its Lara Logan Story?

On February 15 the LA Weekly published a post by Simone Wilson under the headline "Lara Logan, CBS Reporter and War Zone 'It Girl,' Raped Repeatedly Amid Egypt Celebration." The opening paragraph stated that Logan had been "brutally and repeatedly raped" -- with that phrase emphasized in bold type.

The LA Weekly apparently got the story wrong. Logan had suffered a horrifying sexual assault while working in Cairo's Tahrir Square, disturbing details of which came to light in subsequent media coverage. But according to reporting from three different news outlets
-- The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, and IOL News of South Africa (Logan's native country) -- Logan was not raped. Those articles were cited in a MediaBugs error report posted last week by Tracy Clark-Flory, a journalist who covers women's issues. (Disclosure: Clark-Flory is a friend and former colleague of mine at Salon.) Since the report was posted, MediaBugs sent three emails to LA Weekly editors seeking a response. We've received none.

It's understandable how a news organization might have made this kind of mistake; while many initial reports about Logan's attack adhered to a statement from CBS News describing "a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating," LA Weekly wasn't the only outlet to make the leap to "rape." (See Jen Phillips' post on MotherJones.com for more on this.)

Still, it's troubling that more than three weeks later the LA Weekly has not posted a correction on its piece, or explained why it believes no correction is warranted. To say that accuracy is important to a news organization's credibility is stating the obvious -- but it seems particularly crucial when public understanding is distorted around a story as emotionally and politically fraught as Logan's.

The Central Fact Was Wrong

Here's one small anecdote showing why. Last weekend I described the issue to a friend who is well-read on current events. He said that he'd seen the LA Weekly piece, among others. When I told him that Logan apparently had not been raped, he was surprised -- he'd understood that to be a central fact of the story.

Logan3.pngThe LA Weekly's silence on the matter could in part be due to the withering criticism it came under for Wilson's piece, which ran with a curvaceous photo of Logan and used various sexualized descriptions of her, including "firecracker" and "gutsy stunner." Newsrooms tend to circle the wagons when under attack.

That uproar, ultimately, was a matter of editorial judgment and (brutally bad) taste, one that LA Weekly editors may or may not choose to address at some point. (Wilson did so, to some degree, in an update appended to her post on Feb. 16.)

But this issue is more straightforward. By not addressing the apparent factual mistakes brought to its attention, the LA Weekly not only damages its reputation but also does a disservice to Logan's story, which has cast a powerful light on a previously underreported problem faced by female journalists. The uncorrected errors take a piece that already comes across as insensitive and make it seem irresponsible, too.

October 14 2010

14:43

Manchester police tweets – live data visualisation by the MEN

Manchester police tweets - live data visualisation

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) have been experimenting today with tweeting every incident they deal with. The novelty value of the initiative has been widely reported – but local newspaper the Manchester Evening News has taken the opportunity to ask some deeper questions of the data generated by experimenting with data visualisation.

A series of bar charts – generated from Google spreadsheets and updated throughout the day – provide a valuable – and instant – insight into the sort of work that police are having to deal with.

In particular, the newspaper is testing the police’s claim that they spend a great deal of time dealing with “social work” as well as crime. At the time of writing, it certainly does take up a significant proportion – although not the “two-thirds” mentioned by GMP chief Peter Fahy. (Statistical disclaimer: the data does not yet even represent 24 hours, so is not yet going to be a useful guide. Fahy’s statistics may be more reliable).

Also visualised are the areas responsible for the most calls, the social-crime breakdown of incidents by area, and breakdowns of social incidents and serious crime incidents by type.

I’m not sure how much time they had to prepare for this, but it’s a good quick hack.

That said, I’m going to offer some advice on how the visualisation could be improved: 3D bars are never a good idea, for instance, and the divisional breakdown showing serious crime versus “social work” is difficult to visually interpret (percentages of the whole would be more easy to directly compare). The breakdowns of serious crimes and “social work”, meanwhile, should be ranked from most popular down with labelling used rather than colour.

Head of Online Content Paul Gallagher says that it’s currently a manual exercise that requires a page refresh to see updated visuals. But he thinks “the real benefit of this will come afterwards when we can also plot the data over time”. Impressively, the newspaper plans to publish the raw data and will be bringing it to tomorrow’s Hacks and Hackers Hackday in Manchester.

More broadly, the MEN is to be commended for spotting this more substantial angle to what could easily be dismissed as a gimmick by the GMP. Although that doesn’t stop me enjoying the headlines in coverage elsewhere (shown below).

Manchester police twitter headlines

October 12 2010

09:25

Statistical analysis as journalism – Benford’s law

 

drug-related murder map

I’m always on the lookout for practical applications of statistical analysis for doing journalism, so this piece of work by Diego Valle-Jones, on drug-related murders, made me very happy.

I’ve heard of the first-digit law (also known as Benford’s law) before – it’s a way of spotting dodgy data.

What Diego Valle-Jones has done is use the method to highlight discrepancies in information on drug-delated murders in Mexico. Or, as Pete Warden explains:

“With the help of just Benford’s law and data sets to compare he’s able to demonstrate how the police are systematically hiding over a thousand murders a year in a single state, and that’s just in one small part of the article.”

Diego takes up the story:

“The police records and the vital statistics records are collected using different methodologies: vital statistics from the INEGI [the statistical agency of the Mexican government] are collected from death certificates and the police records from the SNSP are the number of police reports (“averiguaciones previas”) for the crime of murder—not the number of victims. For example, if there happened to occur a particular heinous crime in which 15 teens were massacred, but only one police report were filed, all the murders would be recorded in the database as one. But even taking this into account, the difference is too high.

“You could also argue that the data are provisional—at least for 2008—but missing over a thousand murders in Chihuahua makes the data useless at the state level. I could understand it if it was an undercount by 10%–15%, or if they had added a disclaimer saying the data for Chihuahua was from July, but none of that happened and it just looks like a clumsy way to lie. It’s a pity several media outlets and the UN homicide statistics used this data to report the homicide rate in Mexico is lower than it really is.”

But what brings the data alive is Diego’s knowledge of the issue. In one passage he checks against large massacres since 1994 to see if they were recorded in the database. One of them – the Acteal Massacre (“45 dead, December 22, 1997″) – is not there. This, he says, was “committed by paramilitary units with government backing against 45 Tzotzil Indians … According to the INEGI there were only 2 deaths during December 1997 in the municipality of Chenalho, where the massacre occurred. What a silly way to avoid recording homicides! Now it is just a question of which data is less corrupt.”

The post as a whole is well worth reading in full, both as a fascinating piece of journalism, and a fascinating use of a range of statistical methods. As Pete says, it is a wonder this guy doesn’t get more publicity for his work.

09:25

Statistical analysis as journalism – Benford’s law

 

drug-related murder map

I’m always on the lookout for practical applications of statistical analysis for doing journalism, so this piece of work by Diego Valle-Jones, on drug-related murders, made me very happy.

I’ve heard of the first-digit law (also known as Benford’s law) before – it’s a way of spotting dodgy data.

What Diego Valle-Jones has done is use the method to highlight discrepancies in information on drug-delated murders in Mexico. Or, as Pete Warden explains:

“With the help of just Benford’s law and data sets to compare he’s able to demonstrate how the police are systematically hiding over a thousand murders a year in a single state, and that’s just in one small part of the article.”

Diego takes up the story:

“The police records and the vital statistics records are collected using different methodologies: vital statistics from the INEGI [the statistical agency of the Mexican government] are collected from death certificates and the police records from the SNSP are the number of police reports (“averiguaciones previas”) for the crime of murder—not the number of victims. For example, if there happened to occur a particular heinous crime in which 15 teens were massacred, but only one police report were filed, all the murders would be recorded in the database as one. But even taking this into account, the difference is too high.

“You could also argue that the data are provisional—at least for 2008—but missing over a thousand murders in Chihuahua makes the data useless at the state level. I could understand it if it was an undercount by 10%–15%, or if they had added a disclaimer saying the data for Chihuahua was from July, but none of that happened and it just looks like a clumsy way to lie. It’s a pity several media outlets and the UN homicide statistics used this data to report the homicide rate in Mexico is lower than it really is.”

But what brings the data alive is Diego’s knowledge of the issue. In one passage he checks against large massacres since 1994 to see if they were recorded in the database. One of them – the Acteal Massacre (“45 dead, December 22, 1997″) – is not there. This, he says, was “committed by paramilitary units with government backing against 45 Tzotzil Indians … According to the INEGI there were only 2 deaths during December 1997 in the municipality of Chenalho, where the massacre occurred. What a silly way to avoid recording homicides! Now it is just a question of which data is less corrupt.”

The post as a whole is well worth reading in full, both as a fascinating piece of journalism, and a fascinating use of a range of statistical methods. As Pete says, it is a wonder this guy doesn’t get more publicity for his work.

September 17 2010

14:07
07:46

March 17 2010

15:53

Crowdsourcing Crime Information In Kenya

Hatari.co.ke is is a website that allows anyone in Nairobi, Kenya, to submit reports about crime and corruption in the city. ("Hatari" means "danger" in Swahili.) It will provide the growing city and its inhabitants with a repository of public information about incidents such as carjacking, corruption, police harassment and others.

This initiative builds on other crime maps such as SpotCrime and MapATL. The idea of crime mapping is not new (see EveryBlock, an Idea Lab success story), but it's unlikely that law enforcement officials and the general public in Kenya previously had a tool to visualize crime information. This is why Hatari has potential.

Using Ushahidi

Screen shot 2010-03-15 at 3.26.09 AM

This website uses the Ushahidi platform, an open source solution for crowdsourcing information. (The New York Times recently wrote about the project.) Ushahidi, which is Swahili for "testimony," was created to map reports of violence in Kenya after elections in early 2008. Since then, the United Nations OCHA/Colombia branch has used Ushahidi for coordinating humanitarian response during the Bogota earthquake simulation. Other notable deployments of the free crowdsourcing platform have seen it used for election monitoring in India, Lebanon, Mexico and Afghanistan, among other projects.

Crowdsourcing crime information is new in Kenya. As a result, some of the potential questions and issues arising from this implementation include: Is it legal for someone to take a picture of a corrupt cop? And what sort of information can the public expect from the law enforcement agencies regarding crime in their neighborhoods? The answers are not immediately apparent, and it will take some time to figure things out.

With implementations like MapATL, and hyper-local sites such as EveryBlock, the availability of public data makes this kind of work much easier to do in the United States. The same cannot be said of Kenya. On the other hand, this shows that there's an opportunity to innovate and find out whether implementations such as Hatari can encourage the government to provide more data to the public, and push closer to something like Data.gov.

Creating a Sustainable Platform

Some of the major challenges for Hatari include inspiring participation among the public, and figuring out how to close the feedback loop. In essence, it's about answering the question, "Why should I report what I see?"

To this end, Hatari includes the option to subscribe to SMS/email alerts so that people can be notified when someone reports an incident near an area they are interested in. This is the first step in providing value to the users of the site. It also leads to another challenge, which Ushahidi is working on: Making the SMS alerts system sustainable. Currently, there is a cost issue, and if the project gains more traction, the costs will rise as more people sign up for alerts. Hatari is currently reaching out to mobile service providers to see if they're willing to donate a short code.

Ushahidi implementations always work best with extensive partnerships with organizations on the ground. Ushahidi has reached out to several organizations and it is in the process of formalizing these partnerships. An announcement will be forthcoming in the near future. For now, though, Hatari looks like it could be the project that best showcases how crowdsourcing data can have a direct impact in the daily lives of Nairobians.

For anyone who's curious, here is how people can submit reports to Hatari:

  1. By sending a text message to +254719457500
  2. By sending an email to tips@hatari.co.ke
  3. By sending a tweet with the hashtag/s #hatari #nairobi
  4. By filling out a form at the website
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