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June 26 2013

20:57

With gay marriage sure to spark emotional responses, The Washington Post and New York Times try structuring comments

Back in March, we wrote about a New York Times experiment to add more structure to reader comments on big stories. In that case, the story was the election of Pope Francis; The Times asked readers to notate their responses with whether they were Catholic, whether they were surprised by the appointment, and whether they approved of it. That added structure allowed other readers to view comments through those lenses, putting a filter on what could have been, on another platform, an overwhelming “Read 5,295 comments” link.

Today brought some more big news: the Supreme Court’s ruling that the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented federal recognition of same-sex marriages, was unconstitutional. And today both the Times and The Washington Post brought structure to reader response.

First the Post:

wapo-structured-comments-doma

The interactive — credited to Katie Park, Leslie Passante, Ryan Kellett, and Masuma Ahuja — steps past the pro-/anti-gay marriage debate and instead asks why readers care: “Why do the Supreme Court’s decisions on gay marriage matter to you?” The given choices — “It engages my moral or religious beliefs,” “It impacts someone I know,” and the like — then provide the raw data for a lovely flower-like Venn-diagram data visualization. (With colors sufficiently muted to avoid immediate rainbow associations.)

The open response question also tries to steer clear of pro/con by asking: “Now, in your own words, use your experience to tell us how these decisions resonate with you.” It’s generated over 2,800 responses at this writing, and you can sort through them all via the structured filters.

Now the Times:

nytimes-doma-supreme-court-comment

The Times’ interactive was built by Lexi Mainland, Michael Strickland, Scott Blumenthal, John Niedermeyer, and Tyson Evans. They selected six key excerpts from today’s opinions — four from Anthony Kennedy and one each from Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito — and asked readers whether they agree or disagree with each. (There’s also an “unsure” option for those who don’t fancy themselves constitutional scholars.)

Along with that quantifiable response, readers were asked to leave a brief comment explaining their position. The excerpts appear in random order on each load. And, just as the pope experiment separated out responses from Catholics, this Times interactive pulls out comments from people who identify as gay. Like the Post, the Times uses a non-standard call for responses: Rather than responding to a news story, they’re asked to “Respond to the Justices.”

(The responses so far don’t do much to change the stereotype of Times readers as liberal. Justice Kennedy’s four excerpts — from the majority opinion, striking down DOMA — have been agreed with 130 times and disagreed with just four times. In contrast, Scalia and Alito’s pro-DOMA comments are losing Times readers 76 to 7 and 73 to 6, respectively.)

As news organizations try to figure out better ways to benefit from their audiences — ways that go beyond an unstructured “What do you think?” — these efforts from the Post and the Times are welcome. Big stories that generate big emotion deserve custom treatment if you want to get the most of your readers. Comments are just another kind of content, and as content becomes more intelligently structured, comments should follow suit.

May 29 2013

22:16

How does Quartz create visualizations so quickly on breaking news?

If you’ve ever wondered, someone else did on Quora, and the site’s Ritchie S. King responded:

Read Quote of Ritchie S. King’s answer to Quartz: How does quartz – QZ.com create visualizations so fast for developing news stories? on Quora

D3.js is awesome, although it does have a bit of a learning curve. Very smart to create a mediating tool the whole newsroom can use.

August 16 2012

14:00

Did Global Voices Use Diverse Sources on Twitter for Arab Spring Coverage?

Citizen journalism and social media have become major sources for the news, especially after the Arab uprisings of early 2011. From Al Jazeera Stream and NPR's Andy Carvin to the Guardian's "Three Pigs" advertisement, news organizations recognize that journalism is just one part of a broader ecosystem of online conversation. At the most basic level, journalists are following social media for breaking news and citizen perspectives. As a result, designers are rushing to build systems like Ushahidi's SwiftRiver to filter and verify citizen media.

Audience analytics and source verification only paint part of the picture. While upcoming technologies will help newsrooms understand their readers and better use citizen sources, we remain blind to the way the news is used in turn by citizen sources to gain credibility and spread ideas. That's a loss for two reasons. Firstly, it opens newsrooms up to embarrassing forms of media manipulation. Most importantly, we're analytically blind to one of bloggers' and citizen journalists' greatest incentives: attention.

Re-imagining media representation

For my MIT Media Lab master's thesis, I'm trying to re-imagine how we think about media representation in online media ecosystems. Over the next year, my main focus will be gender in the media. But this summer, for a talk at the Global Voices Summit in Nairobi, I developed a visualization of media representation in Global Voices, which has been reporting on citizen media far longer than most news organizations.

(I'm hoping the following analysis of Global Voices convinces you that tracking media representation is exciting and important. If your news organization is interested in developing these kinds of metrics, or if you're a Global Voices editor trying to understand whose voices you amplify, I would love to hear from you. Contact me on Twitter at @natematias or at natematias@gmail.com.)

Media Representation in Global Voices: Egypt and Libya

My starting questions were simple: Whose voices (from Twitter) were most cited in Global Voices' coverage of the Arab uprisings, and how diverse were those voices? Was Global Voices just amplifying the ideas of a few people, or were they including a broad range of perspectives? Global Voices was generous enough to share its entire English archive going back to 2004, and I built a data visualization tool for exploring those questions across time and sections:

globalvoices.jpg

Let's start with Egypt. (Click to load the Egypt visualization.) Global Voices has been covering Egypt since its early days. The first major spike in coverage occurred in February 2007 when blogger Kareem Amer was sentenced to prison for things he said on his blog. The next spike in coverage, in February 2009, occurred in response to the Cairo bombing. The largest spike in Egypt coverage starts at the end of January 2011 in response to protests in Tahrir Square and is sustained over the next few weeks. Notice that while Global Voices did quote Twitter from time to time (citing 68 unique Twitter accounts the week of the Cairo bombing), the diversity of Twitter citation grew dramatically during the Egyptian uprising -- and actually remained consistently higher thereafter.

Tracking twitter citations

Why was Global Voices citing Twitter? By sorting articles by Twitter citation in my visualization, it's possible to look at the posts which cite the greatest number of unique Twitter accounts. Some posts reported breaking news from Tahrir, quoting sources from Twitter. Others report on viral political hashtag jokes, a popular format for Global Voices posts. Not all posts cite Egyptian sources. This post on the global response to Egyptian uprising shares tweets from around the world.

twitteraccounts.jpg

By tracking Twitter citation in Global Voices, we're also able to ask: Whose voices was GlobalVoices amplifying? Citation in blogs and the news can give a source exposure, credibility, and a growing audience.

In the Egypt section, the most cited Twitter source was Alaa Abd El Fattah, an Egyptian blogger, software developer, and activist. One of the last times he was cited in Global Voices was in reference to his month-long imprisonment in November 2011.

Although Alaa is prominent, Global Voices relied on hundreds of other sources. The Egypt section cites 1,646 Twitter accounts, and @alaa himself appears alongside 368 other accounts.

One of those accounts is that of Sultan al-Qassemi, who lives in Sharjah in the UAE, and who translated arabic Tweets into English throughout the Arab uprisings. @sultanalqassemi is the fourth most cited account in Global Voices Egypt, but that accounts for only 28 posts out of the 65 where he is mentioned. This is very different from Alaa, who is cited primarily just within the Egypt section.

sultan.jpg

Let's look at other sections where Sultan al-Qassemi is cited in Global Voices. Consider, for example, the Libya section, where he appears in 18 posts. (Click to load the Libya visualization.) Qassemi is cited exactly the same number of times as the account @ChangeInLibya, a more Libya-focused Twitter account. Here, non-Libyan voices have been more prominent: Three out of the five most cited Twitter accounts (Sultan al-Qassemi, NPR's Andy Carvin, and the Dubai-based Iyad El-Baghdadi) aren't Libyan accounts. Nevertheless, all three of those accounts were providing useful information: Qassemi reported on sources in Libya; Andy Carvin was quoting and retweeting other sources, and El-Baghdadi was creating situation maps and posting them online. With Libya's Internet mostly shut down from March to August, it's unsurprising to see more outside commentary than we saw in the Egypt section.

globalvoiceslibya.jpg

Where Do We Go From Here?

This very simple demo shows the power of tracking source diversity, source popularity, and the breadth of topics that a single source is quoted on. I'm excited about taking the project further, to look at:

  • Comparing sources used by different media outlets
  • Auto-following sources quoted by a publication, as a way for journalists to find experts, and for audiences to connect with voices mentioned in the media
  • Tracking and detecting media manipulators
  • Developing metrics for source diversity, and developing tools to help journalists find the right variety of sources
  • Journalist and news bias detection, through source analysis
  • Comparing the effectiveness of closed source databases like the Public Insight Network and Help a Reporter Out to open ecosystems like Twitter, Facebook, and online comments. Do source databases genuinely broaden the conversation, or are they just a faster pipeline for PR machines?
  • Tracking the role of media exposure on the popularity and readership of social media accounts

Still Interested?

I'm sure you can think of another dozen ideas. If you're interested in continuing the conversation, try out my Global Voices Twitter Citation Viewer (tutorial here), add a comment below, and email me at natematias@gmail.com.

Nathan develops technologies for media analytics, community information, and creative learning at the MIT Center for Civic Media, where he is a Research Assistant. Before MIT, Nathan worked in UK startups, developing technologies used by millions of people worldwide. He also helped start the Ministry of Stories, a creative writing center in East London. Nathan was a Davies-Jackson Scholar at the University of Cambridge from 2006-2008.

This post originally appeared on the MIT Center for Civic Media blog.

April 23 2012

15:41

June 27 2011

17:30

Deeper into data: U.K.-based ScraperWiki plans new tools and U.S. expansion with News Challenge

Looking over the scope of the Knight News Challenge, from its beginning to the winners announced this year, it’s clear data is king. From this year’s data-mining projects alone — whether inside the confines of the newsroom, posting public records in rural areas, or delivering vital information on clean water — we can safely say that the Knight Foundation sees data as a big part of the future for journalism and communities.

But Francis Irving says we’ve only scratched the surface on how data is delivered, displayed and consumed. “It’s an unexplored area,” said Irving, CEO of ScraperWiki. “We’re right at the beginning of this.”

As you may have guessed from the name, ScraperWiki is a tool to help people collect and publish data through a simple online interface that also serves as a repository for code. (Equal dose scraper and wiki.)

As a winner of this year’s Knight News Challenge, ScraperWiki plans to use their three-year, $280,000 grant to expand both their product and their reach. With a home base in Liverpool, ScraperWiki also hopes to cross the Atlantic and replicate their work helping journalists and ordinary citizens uncover data. “We want to lower the barrier for someone to do general purpose programming,” he said.

Irving told me a number of reporters and programmers in the U.K. have teamed up to use ScraperWiki to find stories and give new life to old data. James Ball, an investigative reporter for The Guardian, used ScraperWiki to write a story on the influence and spending of lobbyist on members of Parliament. ScraperWiki was also used by U.K. officials to create a search site for services provided by the government.

One of the reasons for ScraperWiki’s success, Irving said, is the meetups they throw to bring journalists and programmers face to face. Part of their expansion plans under the News Challenge grant is launching similar, Hacks/Hackers-style events here in the U.S., which will also serve as an introduction to ScraperWiki. Irving said the meetups are less about serving up punch and pie, but instead a way of fostering the kind of talk that happens when you bring different perspectives to talk about a shared interest.

“The value is in gathering, structuring, and building things people haven’t thought of yet,” he said.

More broadly, they plan to build out a new set of features for ScraperWiki, including an embargo tool that would allow journalists to create structured datasets that would be released on publication of a story; an on-demand tool for a seamless process for finding and releasing records; and alerts which could signal journalists on changes related to databases they follow.

And that gets to Irving’s larger hopes for uses of data, either in storytelling or surfacing vital information for the public’s use. Data journalism, he said, can serve a great purpose, but has to expand beyond simply accessing and assessing government records for stories. That’s why Irving is interested in the new generation of news apps that step outside of the article or investigative series, that take a different approach to visualization and display.

Irving said they’re happy to have a partner like Knight who has knowledge and connections in the world of journalism, which will be a help when ScraperWiki comes to these shores. The key ingredient, he said, is partnering the creative expertise of programmers, who can see new angles for code, and journalists, who can curate what’s important to the community.

“There’s going to be lots of things happening when you combine professional journalists with computer programs and they can supercharge each other,” he said.

June 13 2011

14:12

Tune up your skills this summer

14:12

Tune up your skills this summer

March 31 2011

19:01

March 15 2011

16:46

How Dotspotting Began with Colored Dots on Drains in San Francisco

sewer-250.jpgIn some ways you could say that the Dotspotting project started with San Francisco's sewage and drain system. A few years ago I started noticing some strange dot markings on the curbs of city sidewalks, directly above the storm drains like the one you see on the left

But on closer inspection, it turned out they weren't just single dots. They seemed to be dots that had been applied, rubbed off a bit, and reapplied. Like Roman palimpsests, the curbs above drains looked like reusable canvasses -- but for dots, instead of edicts. The image below is one close-up example.

sewerclose-500.jpg

This is the kind of thing that infrastructure dorks like me obsess over for a while... and then inevitably move on to something else. (My fascination with the dots waned as I became intrigued by another piece of urban infrastructure, the cable car, which I've been using on my daily commute for about six months -- and mapping on Dotspotting).

Spotting the Dotter

A few years went by and one day I happened to see a man riding his bicycle down Hyde Street in the Tenderloin. His route and mine coincided in just the right way for me to see him stop at a storm drain, reach down and do something with a pole, make a note on a hand-held device, and slowly bike down to the next drain. Traffic being what it was on Hyde, I was able to catch up with him just in time to see him spraying different colored dots on the curb, over dots the ones that were already there! I was pretty excited.

After a quick conversation later, I discovered that he worked at San Francisco's Mosquito Abatement Team. This is the part of the Public Utilities Commission that checks likely standing water locations in the city and, if they find mosquitoes, deals with them. Of course, they track all of their work on GPS and so forth (stay tuned for some hopeful mappings of that data).

But in order to keep things simple -- and to make it possible to see how long its been since a drain was inspected -- the Abatement Team coordinates their efforts so that they always know whether this inspection period is green, white, pink, and so forth. If a drain's most recent dot is the right color, it's been inspected. If not, it hasn't. It's a simple and elegant solution to a potentially onerous problem.

I love that the simple process of making the same mark over and over again, but making it slightly differently, results in this rich data set that can be understood and read if you've got the information and tools to interpret it. (As a side note, I also love having conversations with people who spray markings on the sidewalk. You think you're bothering them with your questions but I've found they're actually pretty pleased to talk to you.)

Visualizing Water Systems

Like a lot of other things, the water system is a gnarly beast that gets more interesting the more you poke at it. There's a ton of information available on the San Francisco utility website, including the awesome map of its wastewater system below -- it even includes the city's version of the Continental Divide:

Wastewater_System_Overview - 500.jpg

Back to Dotspotting

All of this is a long lead-in to the fact that Herb Dang, who runs the Operations department at SFWater, was a surprise visitor to the CityTracking Conference we've just finished cleaning up from at Stamen HQ. His presence sparked just the kind of conversation I had hoped would happen at the conference: developers interested in digital civic infrastructure talking directly with the people who hold the data and use it every day.

We learned a couple interesting things from Herb.

First, that there's a giant concrete wall around the city on the Bay side that channels all of the wastewater runoff down to the Southeast Treatment Plant (not to be confused with the Oceanside Treatment Plant that was almost renamed the George W. Bush Sewage Plant. ("Besides," locals joked, "if we name the local sewage plant after Bush, then what's left to name after Jesse Helms?")

Second, that any request for data about the location, diameter, and any other information about a public drain pipe in the city has to go through a technical review as well as a legal review. So, in addition to needing to verify that the information is correct, the water department also needs to verify that it's a legit request. You don't want people hoovering up information about drains that they could potentially slip bombs into, for example.

Every single building in San Francisco has their own set of records for water and drainage and sewer connections, and getting information on each one of these generates its own review processes. What that means is that if a team like Stamen wants to make a map of the water infrastructure near our office, we'll need to write a separate subpoena, for each connection. For. Each. Connection.

Herb estimated that, within a stone's throw from the studio where the conference was held, there were about 40,000 sewer connections. "40,000 subpoenas" became a catch-phrase for the rest of the day.

How We're Implementing This Info

In any event, I'm still catching up with all of the interesting discussions that were had during the conference, but that's a pretty good representative sample. It's also a nice way to segue into the design work we've been doing on Dotspotting, which I'll be demoing briefly at South by Southwest this week.

There are a number of pretty substantial improvements, but what I'm most excited about at the moment are some big changes to the interface and overall visual look of the thing. Mapping 311 requests for Sewer Issues in District 10 used to look like the cropped image below.

dotspotting_old - 500.jpg

Now, with some swanktastic custom cartography that Geraldine and Aaron have been working on, and visual and interactive improvements that Sean and Shawn (I know, weird, right?) have been polishing and making right, it looks more like the shot below. We'll be pushing this work live some time before my SXSW presentation.

dotspotting_new - 500.jpg

So, onwards we go. Upload yer dots!

March 11 2011

17:30

How French Site OWNI Profits by Giving Away Its Content

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Business content on MediaShift is sponsored by the weekend MA in Public Communication at American University. Designed for working professionals, the program is suited to career changers and public relations or social marketing professionals seeking career advancement. Learn more here.

Most content sites in the U.S. have two ways of making money: charging for subscriptions or running advertising (or both). But a French site, OWNI.fr, has found an unusual business model for a site with no ads and no subscriptions -- that's also profitable. How do they do it? Their main business is doing web development and apps for media companies and institutions.

One big advantage for OWNI is its origins as a pure online business, with an entrepreneurial CEO Nicolas Voisin and a staff of web developers. The site was initially an aggregation of bloggers, with the parent company called 22Mars (March 22nd), set up to fight a controversial French copyright law known as HADOPI. While 22Mars was made up of web developers at launch in April 2009, they eventually revamped the site with more editorial direction and hired journalists in 2010 to work alongside the developers.

The result is a striking website, with an eye-catching design and various examples of data journalism and data visualization. In fact, when they set up an English-language site, OWNI.eu, its motto was "Digital Journalism." The site won an Online Journalism Award at the ONA conference last year, and is a finalist in next week's SXSW Accelerator competition for "news-related technologies." Here's a screen shot from one data visualization showing how many people have died immigrating to Europe from Africa:



fortress europe.jpg

All the American interest in the French site will grow exponentially when the site opens a U.S. subsidiary next month, somewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area. I spoke to the future CEO of that U.S. subsidiary, Adriano Farano, an Italian who had helped run Cafe Babel, a pan-European website. Here, he explains what the name OWNI means in French (largely a play on "UFO"):

adriano1.mp3

Farano told me that the parent company, 22Mars, is about a third of the way to closing a Series C round of funding for about 1.5 million Euros, and that they will seek a first round of funding for OWNI.us. In France, the company grew from just 8 people a year ago to 37 today, with 15 full-time journalists. At the same time, Farano says the site traffic also boomed, going from 200,000 monthly unique visitors to 1.5 million uniques today.

I also spoke by phone to OWNI's director of data journalism, Nicolas Kayser-Bril. The following is an edited transcript of our international phone conversation.

Q&A

Why did you start OWNI and what were your aims?

Nicolas Kayser-Bril: It wasn't planned to be a media company at all. It was started in April 2009, where there was a law called HADOPI being passed in the French parliament, that was dangerous for online freedom [and later was the basis for Loppsi 2]. Several bloggers got together to set up a platform [to fight the law]. And the company that was set up to run OWNI is called 22Mars, and we decided to host the platform so we had a blog network hosted on a WordPress platform. Step by step, the platform grew, and Nicolas Voisin, the CEO of 22Mars decided to take the experiment further and put one person full-time on maintaining and engaging the community.

We saw that this worked well so we put more resources and people into OWNI. So we decided to become a real media [outlet], a real website, still with this strong community of bloggers behind it. In the summer of 2010, we realized that OWNI had become a real media [outlet], ran stories, and really had a big impact in the traditional media sphere. We hadn't really planned to become one. This changed the way the company was organized. At first we had been more of a showroom for what we're doing, and today it's more of a lab where journalists are free to innovate and do what they want.

With that experience, we continue to run our service company, selling website development and applications. We specialize in providing apps and social media platforms. Half of our sales today have to do with social media, and the other half has to do with data visualization, crowdsourcing apps, and running innovative journalistic products. We serve all kinds of institutions and NGOs that have a story to tell but don't know how to to do it online. We build the tools for them to do so.

When you say half of your sales is social media does that mean helping them with social media strategy?

Kayser-Bril: We do some social media consulting, but most of the work is building social media websites tailor made [for clients]. For instance, with universities, they have unique problems as to how to communicate between teachers and students and the wider public. So we built the interface using WordPress to solve this problem. So we always build custom solutions with added value.

What was your background and that of the OWNI CEO Nicolas Voisin?

Kayser-Bril: Nicolas, our CEO, was an entrepreneur and got into the media in 2006 before the presidential election in France. He started doing a political show; he realized there was a big gap on how the public was informed about candidates' platforms. So what he decided to do was interview them without time limits and spent hours with them, and then posted them on YouTube. It worked really well, so he thought there was a need to reinvent storytelling online. That's what drove him.

The other core people at the company are mostly developers. I myself have a background in economics. I never studied journalism. Before OWNI, I was living in Berlin and working at a startup. Before that I was doing freelance work. I was doing online work for a presidential campaign in 2009, mostly web-related things. We didn't hire a traditional journalist until February 2010. Now we have many seasoned journalists working for us.

So you are set up as a non-profit or for-profit company?

Kayser-Bril: 22Mars is for-profit, and we did not spin off OWNI as a non-profit organization from an accounting perspective. The website does not have to make a profit in the sense that we don't make money from the website. No subscriptions and no hidden advertisements. The value the website provides is in gaining expertise online that we can then share and sell to clients.

So your model is basically making money by developing websites and custom social media solutions? The site is more of a testing lab?

Kayser-Bril: Exactly. You could compare it to businesses in other industries. We might start selling online objects or other products in the coming months to have more high-margin products.

We will start selling e-books, which is a big driving force of 22Mars -- we don't sell content but we sell products, because everyone knows content is abundant. What's missing is a way to properly browse through it and consume it. So we'll be selling apps. Not apps for the iPhone or in the App Store. We always remain on the HTML side and JavaScript and stay compatible with all platforms. So they would run on the open web as well as on the iPhone and iPad.

augmented cartoon.jpg

We're convinced that the apps you see on the iPhone and iPad and Android in the future will be merged into web apps because it makes more sense economically to develop something once instead of three or four times. We develop for all devices. We recently published what we call an augmented cartoon where you have more depth in text, and can follow links. We made it for the iPad; it was more of an iPad app than it worked on a computer. With HTML 5 you can really design an app and optimize it for the device you want.

Kayser-Bril explains how developers will work for OWNI for less money than at other companies because they have a chance to work on projects about society and politics:

nicolas1.mp3

Does OWNI have a specific political viewpoint?

Kayser-Bril: Not really, we're not really involved in politics. What we do fight for is freedom online and offline, supporting the declaration of human rights. We could lead fights in defense of Internet freedoms (for example, against censorship, for Net neutrality, etc.). We'll fight against all laws that restrict freedom of speech online. We don't have any more political views beyond that. When you see the political views of people at OWNI, it ranges from leftist to libertarian so it would be impossible to have a single political line.

Tell me about the work you've done for WikiLeaks.

Kayser-Bril: WikiLeaks called us to do similar work that we are doing on a daily basis, which is building interfaces and web apps. Their problem is that they had masses of web documents but they were not comprehensible for a normal human being. So we came up with this app to browse through the Afghan War Logs. It illustrates how OWNI works, because when the Afghan War Logs came out, we realized we could build that just like for the Iraq War Logs.

afghan war logs.jpg

It was a non-commercial relationship with WikiLeaks, and it made perfect sense because we learned a lot so we could sell crowdsourcing applications. From a business perspective it made a lot of sense.

Kayser-Bril explains how OWNI helps clients with unique open solutions, and that everyone's become a media outlet now:

nicolas2.mp3

Have you done work for media companies?

Kayser-Bril: Yes, many French ones. Our client list include France24, Radio France Internationale, Groupe Moniteur (professional magazines), Le Monde Diplomatique, Slate.fr, Le Soir (Brussels) and Zeit Online (Berlin). We're in talks with many more, and we've worked as well for NGOs and public institutions (the municipality of Paris and the French presidency).

I noticed that you re-post or license content from other sites on OWNI. How much of your content is original vs. reposted?

Kayser-Bril: About half and half. We are trying to reach the 60% mark of original content. If someone is more of an expert than we are, we just republish his or her article. Not just re-posting it, but fact-checking it, adding images -- we really want to add value to cross-posted articles.

You have a Creative Commons license on your stories. So does that mean anyone can run your stories on their site?

Kayser-Bril: Of course. Our whole business model is built on the Creative Commons license. On the content side, the more our articles are republished, the happier we are. We don't have advertising, but we want our articles to be read. Please repost them. On the business side as well, we only use open technologies -- HTML and JavaScript and no Flash. And that makes sense because our added value isn't in the code or software that we build, but how we can answer our clients' needs and provide them open solutions.

Kayser-Bril explains how OWNI's new U.S. site won't consider other media sites as competition but as partners:

nicolas3.mp3

Can you point to any successes you've had in some of your journalism experiments?

Kayser-Bril: The WikiLeaks project didn't turn out as well as it could have. One thing we did was rethink the way surveys are made. We worked with a pollster and realized that when a media [outlet] orders a survey, what you get in the paper is a page with two infographics and a pie chart. That's not enough. We built an app that lets you browse through all the data the pollster gathered to really see in your area what men over 45 thought. What was really successful was we added the possibilitiy for you to take the survey while you were browsing the app.

That's extremely interesting in terms of journalism, because you can see what your audience is like compared to the people who took the survey. It's also interesting in terms of business because one big asset today is having a big database with qualified voters and such an app would be very valuable for many clients.

*****

What do you think about OWNI's site and business model? Do you think they can replicate their success in the U.S.? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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Business content on MediaShift is sponsored by the weekend MA in Public Communication at American University. Designed for working professionals, the program is suited to career changers and public relations or social marketing professionals seeking career advancement. Learn more here.

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March 01 2011

17:30

February 25 2011

04:48

Data Visualization Tools, Slides and Links from NICAR11

The first day of CAR2011 was stuffed full of information, so much so that the only way to keep up with everything is to keep a log of what people have been sharing.

I’ll update this post throughout the conference and organize it better over the weekend. In the meantime, prepare to have your mind blown.

Got links from sessions you attended? Post them in comments and I’ll add them to this list.

References

Analysis-ready census data (from USA Today, available to NICAR members only)
A directory of statistics bureaus by country (from Statistics Sweden)
Numberway.com – lookup phone numbers around the world
Little Sis – visualizing the networks of social, financial and political power
Data Visualization for Beginners (from the CAR2011 conference blog)
Tracking the Economy and Business (from the CAR2011 conference blog)
Getting into a data-oriented mindset (from Mary Jo Webster and Wendell Cochran)

Presentations

Almost Scraping: Web Scraping without Programming (from Michelle Minkoff and Matt Waite)

Data Visualization with JavaScript and HTML5 (from Jeff Larson)

PostGIS is Your New Bicycle – be wowed by a free alternative to costly desktop GIS (from Mike Corey and Ben Welsh)

Software & Tools

API Playground – try APIs, no coding skills necessary
ChangeTracker from ProPublica – track changes to any website
Google Fusion Tables
Needlebase
Protovis
R statistical analysis software
Simile Timeline
TimeFlow

Work Samples

The Killing Roads – interactive map of highway accidents in Norway

Related Posts:

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February 09 2011

21:10

'Data and Cities' Conference Pushes Open Data, Visualizations

When I entered Stamen's offices in the Mission district of San Francisco, I saw four people gathered around a computer screen. What were they doing? Nothing less than "mapping the world" -- not as it appears in flat dimension, but how it reveals itself. And they weren't joking. Stamen, a data visualization firm, has always kept "place" central to many of their projects. They achieved this most famously through their crimespotting maps of Oakland and San Francisco, which give geographical context to the world of crime. This week they are taking on a world-sized challenge as they host a conference that focuses on cities, interactive mapping, and data.

As part of a Knight News challenge grant, this conference is part of Stamen's Citytracking project, an effort to provide the public with new tools to interact with data as it relates to urban environments. The first part of this project is called dotspotting, and is startling in its simplicity. While still in early beta stage, this project aims at creating a baseline map by imposing linkable dots on locations to yield data sets. The basic idea is to strike a balance between the free, but ultimately not-yours, nature of Google Maps and the infinitely malleable, but overly nerdy, open-source stacks that are out there.

dotspotting crop.jpg

With government agencies increasingly expected to operate within expanded transparency guidelines, San Francisco passed the nation's first open data law last fall, and many other U.S. cities have started to institutionalize this type of disclosure. San Francisco's law is basic and seemingly non-binding. It states that city departments and agencies "shall make reasonable efforts" to publish any data under their control, as long as the data does not violate other laws, in particular those related to privacy. After the law passed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors (no small feat in this terminally fractious city), departments have been uploading data at a significant rate to our data clearinghouse website, datasf. While uploading data to these clearinghouses is the first step, finding ways to truly institutionalize this process has been challenging.

Why should we care about open data? And why should we want to interact with it?

While some link the true rise of open data movement with the most recent recession, the core motivation behind this movement has always been inherent to the nature of a citizenry. Behind this movement is active citizenship. Open data in this sense can mean the right to understand the social, cultural, and societal forces constantly in play around us. As simultaneously the largest consumers and producers of data, cities have the responsibility to engage their citizens with this information. Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of SPUR (San Francisco Planning and Urban Research), and I wrote more about this, in our 2010, year in review guide.

Stamen's Citytracking project wants to make that information accessible to more than just software developers but at a level of sophistication that simultaneously allows for real analysis and widespread participation. Within the scope of this task, Stamen is attempting to converge democracy, technology, and design.

Why is this conference important?

Data and Cities brings together city officials, data visualization experts, technology fiends, and many others who fill in the gaps between these increasingly related fields.
Stamen has also designed this conference to have a mixture of formats, from practical demonstrations, to political discussions, and highly technical talks.

According to Eric Rodenbeck, Stamen's founder and CEO, "This is an exciting time for cities and data, where the literacy level around visualization seems to be rising by the day and we see huge demand and opportunity for new and interesting ways for people to interact with their digital civic infrastructure. And we're also seeing challenges and real questions on the role that cities take in providing the base layer of services and truths that we can rely on. We want to talk about these things in a setting where we can make a difference."

Data and Cities will take place February 9 - 11 and is invitation-only. In case you haven't scored an invitation, I'll be blogging about it all week.

Selected Speakers:

Jen Pahlka from Code for America - inserting developers into city IT departments across the country to help them mine and share their data.

Adam Greenfield from http://urbanscale.org/ and author of Everyware. Committed to applying the toolkit and mindset of interaction design to the specific problems of cities.

Jay Nath, City of San Francisco
http://www.jaynath.com/2010/12/why-sf-should-adopt-creative-commons, http://datasf.org

December 02 2010

16:50

Dotspotting Launches to Make City Data Mappable

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Dotspotting is the first project Stamen is releasing as part of Citytracking, a project funded by the Knight News Challenge. We're making tools to help people gather data about cities and make that data more legible. Our hope is to do this in a way that's simple enough for regular people to get involved, but robust enough for real research to happen along the way.

There's currently a whole chain of elements involved in building digital civic infrastructure for the public, and these are represented by various Stamen projects and those of others. At the moment, the current hodgepodge of bits -- including APIs and official sources, scraped websites, sometimes-reusable data formats and datasets, visualizations, embeddable widgets etc. -- is fractured, overly technical and obscure, and requires considerable expertise to harness. That is, unless you're willing to use generic tools like Google Maps. We want to change this. Visualizing city data shouldn't be this hard, or this generic.

So the first part of this project is to start from scratch, in a "clean room" environment. We've started from a baseline that's really straightforward, tackling the simplest part: Getting dots on maps, without legacy code or any baggage. Just that, to start. Dots on maps.

More Than Dots

But dots on maps implies a few other things: Getting the locations, putting them on there, working with them, and -- crucially -- getting them out in a format that people can work with.

We've had several interactions with different city agencies so far, and while the situation has changed alot in the last few years, we've realized that, for the foreseeable future, people aren't going to stop using Word and Excel and Pages and Numbers to work with their data, or even stop using paper. It's made us think that if this stuff is really going to work out in the long run, we need to focus our thinking on projects that can consume as well as export things that cities and people actually use and use now. This is instead of going with projects that have to rely on fancy APIs or the latest database flavor.

It's great that San Francisco and New York are releasing structured XML data, but Oakland is still uploading Excel spreadsheets (it's actually awesome that they do), and the Tenderloin police lieutenants are printing out paper maps and hand-placing colored stickers on them. At some point, if this really is the way things are going, we're going to need to meet the needs of actual functioning city agencies; and while APIs are great and necessary, for now that means Excel spreadsheets and Word docs. It also means being able to easily read in data that people have uploaded to Google maps, interface with SMS systems like those that Ushahidi are pioneering. And it means being able to export to things like PowerPoint and Keynote, scary as that may seem.

What we've launched with is the baseline work that's being done to make this stuff internet-native. There's a login and permissions system that pretty much works. Uploading .csv files full of dots works. Each dot has an HTML page of its own, for example, like they do on Crimespotting. Collections of dots (we're calling them sheets) work, and you can export them. And there are dots on maps.

Easter Egg

What's up with the funny map, above, you ask? That's an undocumented Easter egg that allows you to change the default base map for Dotspotting on the fly using a templated URL. If that last sentence sounds like gibberish, just think: Fun! And a bit dorky. But fun!

Speaking of which, the code for Dotspotting is available for download on Github, and licensed for use under the GNU General Public License. We're planning on releasing the code as we work on the project, in the hope that working in this kind of transparent manner from the beginning will both benefit the project and serve as an example of the way we'd like to work with foundations on this kind of work.

November 23 2010

14:00

How the FCC is Creating Better Open Data

In the context of our TileMill project, we’ve been talking about our goal to help make open data from governments more actionable by making it easier to turn GIS data into custom maps. We’re focused on building better tools so people can turn data into custom maps to tell better stories online, but another important part of this process is getting good access to quality data in the first place. What does it look like to open up data effectively, so that it’s not just available but useful to the public?

FCC Setting a Good Example

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is providing one good example by demonstrating how an iterative approach to releasing data leads to better quality. Where a lot of government agencies and other organizations with large volumes of data have taken a path of just posting everything they have and letting developers figure out the rest, the FCC has taken a different approach. They have been building applications with their own data, creating APIs based on their own needs as they build, and releasing these APIs to the public to help further vet the usefulness of the APIs and the data. This iterative process where they’re actually “eating their own dogfood” and using the data and APIs they have created is giving the data they have released a sharper edge. Instead of just posting files, the FCC is taking the time to understand how their data is used so that others can leverage it more effectively.

We’re big supporters of this approach. After working on data visualization projects with open data sets, one of the most practical things we’ve discovered is how often there are holes in data quality or completeness until someone tries to visualize the data. The sooner data providers can figure out where these holes are, the sooner they’ll see their data leveraged by others to create greater impact. There’s no better way to discover (and then improve) data issues like this than actually working with the data.

Video

As part of their process to engage the developer community to provide feedback on their API releases, the FCC recently hosted an “Open Developer Day”. After the event, my colleague Eric Gundersen talked about the FCC’s “dogfooding” with Alex Howard from O’Reilly Media. Check out the video below or read Alex’s blog post for more details.

November 17 2010

15:00

The Magic 8 Ball of News: The Future-Jobs-O-Matic

American Public Media has built a better Magic 8 Ball. Okay, not exactly, but it’s just as fun to shake things up on the Future-Jobs-O-Matic game and find out your destiny. And better than the 8 Ball, it’ll tell you what your salary will be.

Released by the team at public radio’s Marketplace, the Future-Jobs-O-Matic is a game-ified (or maybe app-ified) way of breaking out data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Specifically they’re breaking down the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the guide released every two years by the bureau outlining the jobs and industries that are expected to grow.

The guide is already available and searchable online (or in paperback, weighing in at more than 800 pages). But the team at Marketplace figured they could make the information more accessible — and maybe even fun — for their audience.

Taking a spin on the Future Jobs-O-Matic is as easy and familiar as picking a flight on a travel website. You start with a career field, ranging from agriculture and manufacturing to transportation and professional, and narrow it down to specific occupations and ultimately your Job of The Future.

Going several steps better than a high school guidance counselor, the Future Jobs-O-Matic provides a competitive outlook — will your field grow or shrink? — the change in job numbers over a decade, and the median income for 2010.

(The outlook for reporter? “News tip: Keep your eyes open.” For an author/writer/editor? “The internet could be your best chance.” For a network administrator? “Your future is bright. Really bright.”)

I emailed Adriene Hill, a multimedia reporter working on sustainability issues at Marketplace who worked on the project. She said displaying the labor data as an interactive feature gives the audience a better way of understanding information than a more straightforward story.

“We wanted users to engage with the information — to play with it,” she wrote.

The release of the game was timed to coincide with the fall election, as jobs were expected to be a big issue. But with Marketplace’s broader economic focus, the game fits into their continuing coverage on the recession. Hill told me it took around a month to develop and package the game, and similar to most data journalism, one of the larger tasks was figuring out what information was important to the public.

Hill said the game serves a basic function of helping people consider potential jobs, but also provide perspective on the economy. The editorial goals of the game, Hill said, were to examine future jobs, identify trends causing changes, and to “show that some of these changes in the labor market are unrelated to the claims and promises of politicians.”

American Public Media has a history with news games, having previously released Consumer Consequences, which shows the impact of society’s consumption habits on the environment, and Budget Hero, where players could try their hand at spending and cutting the federal budget. Hill said news games need to go beyond just good design and user experience — they need to fulfill the standard of news. “It also needs to meet some need the audience has. In our case, we wanted something simple that would be fast to produce and look at serious, long-term trends (trends that actually are depressing in some cases) and present them in a fun way,” she wrote.

November 12 2010

15:00

Hacking data all night long: A NYC iteration of the hackathon model

In the main room of the Eyebeam Art and Technology Center’s massive 15,000-square foot office and lab space in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, more than sixty developers, designers, and journalists pore over their computer screens. A jumble of empty coffee cups and marked up scraps of butcher paper litter the tabletops while networks of power cords fan out underneath.

The event is The Great Urban Hack, a two-day overnight hackathon, organized by the meetup group Hacks/Hackers, that took place over an intense 30-hour stretch this past weekend. Starting early Saturday morning journalists and developers came together to “design, report on, code and create projects to help New Yorkers get the information they need while strengthening a sense of community.”

The eleven teams that participated in the event worked on a varied set of projects that ranged in scope from collaborative neighborhood mapping to live action urban gaming.

Rearranging and visualizing data

The team that worked on the project “Who’s My Landlord?,” based off of Elizabeth Dwoskin’s article of the same name in the Village Voice last Wednesday, concerned itself with the task of helping residents determine who owns a given piece of property. Dwoskin’s article points out that for many of the most derelict buildings in the city this link is obfuscated, a huge barrier for city agencies in their task of regulation to protect tenants. The team built a tool that draws from three databases: two from the city to pull the names of building owners, and one state database to look up the address of the owner when there is an intermediate company.

Several groups worked on visualizations of some form of city data. The “Drawing Conclusions” team created a “Roach Map” using the raw data set of restaurant inspection results from the NYC Data Mine. The group wrote a script that scans the data line-by-line and counts each violation by zip code. They then analyze the data, taking into account variation in the number of inspections across zip codes, and plot it on a map of the city which auto-generates every week.

How hackathons work is simple: They define goals and create artificial constraints (like time) to catalyze the process of innovation. The closest journalistic equivalent might be the collaborative rush of a good newsroom working a big breaking story. But is this really the best environment to incubate projects of a journalistic nature? What are the different circumstances that foster the healthiest practices of innovation? And what is the best way to set expectations for an event like this?

The hackathon model

Hackathons like this are a growing trend. A lot can be said for bringing these groups together and into a space outside of their normal work environment. What’s maybe most fascinating to me is the opportunity for cultural interplay as these two groups find themselves more and more immersed in each other’s creative work. As John Keefe, one of the hosts of the event and a senior producer at WNYC, says: “It’s not really journalistic culture to come together and build stuff like this.”

Chrys Wu, a co-organizer of Hacks/Hackers and both a journalist and developer, talked about the group’s different philosophy’s of sharing information: “Your traditional reporter has lots of lots of notes, especially if they’re a beat reporter. There’s also their rolodex or contacts database, which is extremely valuable and you wouldn’t want to necessarily share that. But there are pieces of things that you do that you can then reuse or mine on your own…at the same time technologists are putting up libraries of stuff, they say: ‘I’m not going to give you the secret sauce but I’m definitely going to give you the pieces of the sandwich.’”

Lots of questions remain: what is the best way to define the focus or scope for an event like this? Should they be organized around particular issues and crises? And what’s the best starting point for a journalistic project? Is it with a problem, a data set, a question, or as in the case of the landlord project: the research of a journalist? For all of the excitement around hackathons, this seems like just the beginning.

Photo by Jennifer 8. Lee used under a Creative Commons license.

October 25 2010

17:12

GOP Beating Democrats with Social Media for Midterm Elections

There is a major shift going on in politics this election cycle, with more candidates and campaigns using social media and technology to boost their chances. From today until the U.S. midterm elections on Nov. 2, MediaShift presents an in-depth special report, PoliticalShift 2010, with data visualizations, analysis, a 5Across video roundtable and live CoverItLive chat on Election Night with special guests. Stay tuned.

If 2008 was the year that social networks like Facebook and Twitter broke through to mainstream America, then 2010 is shaping up to be the election year that's defined by social media.

Consider that three out of five Americans who consider themselves somewhat politically active are members of a social network, and 70 percent of them expect to vote on Nov. 2, according to a recent study from the E-Voter Institute.

mediashift_politics 2010 small.jpg

Meanwhile, a report from the non-partisan HeadCount.org shows Republicans appear to be more engaged online than Democrats in this election cycle. Out of the current crop of Senate candidates, the Republicans have more than 1.4 million friends on Facebook and over 500,000 followers on Twitter.

By contrast, the Democratic Senate candidates have roughly 300,000 friends on Facebook and around 90,000 followers on Twitter as of September 21. Use the interactive chart below to compare the social media clout of current Democratic, Independent and Republican Senate candidates:

Social Media Senate Snapshot
Social Media Senate Snapshot

You can also track Facebook page stats by using the Facebook Page Leaderboard over at AllFacebook.com. The site also provides an interactive 2010 election guide made using Facebook stats. And you can find the top Twitter rankings and stats at Twitaholic.

Republicans On the Rise

Campaign Spending Pie Chart, 99% of ads offline and 1% online

Democrats were early adopters of social media, user-generated content and blogging, but it appears that Republican supporters have caught up with, and in some ways surpassed, their rivals online. In seven of the eight races listed as toss-ups by the New York Times on Oct. 21, the Facebook fan gap has widened over the past month. Also worth watching are the difficult-to-poll three-way race in Alaska and the race in California, which was used by Nate Silver over at FiveThirtyEight as a case study on last-minute comebacks.

In contrast to the 2008 presidential elections, many campaigns are choosing traditional forms of political advertising instead of online ads. "This year, ascendant Republicans are flush with cash," wrote Mike Shields at AdWeek. "So why not spend big on TV and use the web for its free communications platforms." Shields cited a Borrell Associates estimate that about $44 million would be spent on web ads but that would make up a miniscule fraction of total ad spending this year.

Who Are the Social Media Rock Stars?

Use the interactive chart below to see how the most popular politicians and political parties measure up online. How do they compare to other widely followed sometimes controversial public figures?

Who Is A Social Media Rockstar?
Who Is A Social Media Rockstar?

How are voters using social media in 2010 and what do they expect of politicians? Use the interactive chart below to see how the Web is changing politics.

A Look At Voter Participation and Expectations
A Look At Voter Participation and Expectations

Outside of the Senate candidates, the Republicans have several social media rock stars, while the Democrats have just one. Although @barackobama has more online friends and followers than any American politician, several Democratic heavy-hitters are sitting on the sidelines while Republicans are revving up their political base.

Vice President Joe Biden's Twitter account went silent shortly before he was chosen by Obama as a running mate in August 2008. And while Hillary Clinton does not appear to have a working Facebook or Twitter account (outside of occasional quotes on the @StateDept Twitter feed), Sarah Palin tops 2 million fans on Facebook and @SarahPalinUSA has over 280,000 followers

Mitt Romney, the former Governor of Massachusetts, has more Facebook friends than Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States. President Clinton's Twitter account -- assuming it is not a fake -- is set to private and is punching way below its weight.

Senator John McCain has two active Twitter accounts with a combined total over 1.73 million followers. They are @TeamMcCain for his Senate re-election campaign and @SenJohnMcCain.

About the Data

In the interest of openness and transparency, I am making the curated data set available as a public Google Spreadsheet. If you use it, be sure to cite the original sources. The data used in the above visualizations come from several primary sources:

E-Voter Institute -- The E-Voter Institute is a non-partisan trade association founded in 1999 to advance the interests of web publishers and solution providers within the political and advocacy communities. They worked with HCD Research to survey more than 1,500 people on a range of issues related to technology and politics. The Fifth Annual Survey of Voter Expectations was released in September of 2010. You can download a free version of the report: Executive Summary (PDF)

HeadCount -- HeadCount is a nonpartisan 501©(3) organization that registers voters at concerts and works with musicians to promote participation in democracy. Since the HeadCount report was published in late September, the Facebook fan and Twitter follower counts for 10 races and 22 selected politicians, political parties or public figures were updated by hand on Oct. 21. You can download a free copy of the full report: G.O.P. Winning Social Media Battle By Wide Margin (PDF)

Borrell Associates -- The company's 2010 Political Advertising Outlook was widely cited in media reports.

******

Do you think that social media will play a large role in future elections? Does social media engagement translate into volunteer work, campaign contributions and voter turnout? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Anthony Calabrese is journalist based in Washington, D.C., who specializes in data visualization and digital storytelling. He works as a web producer for the State of the USA where he blogs about measuring the nation's progress. Previously, he worked as a data researcher on the Best Colleges and Best Graduate Schools publications at U.S. News & World Report. He holds a master's degree in interactive journalism from American University and is an active member of the Online News Association.

You can connect on LinkedIn, find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @2mrw

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October 05 2010

21:46

Six Stunning Projects That Show the Power of Data Visualization

Data visualization is taking the web by storm and, with a little luck, it might be the next big thing in online journalism. Buoyed by the open data movement and accelerating change in newsrooms around the country, it has become something more than just flashy graphics and charts -- it is a new form of visual communication for the 21st century.

In the coming months, I'll be writing about this emerging field for MediaShift. We'll cover best practices, free tools and resources. We'll also analyze the best of the best and talk to some data visualization or viz bloggers about what's hot and what's not. From time to time, I'll share some of my own data viz experiences with you and seek your feedback.

What is Data Visualization?

At its core, data visualization is the visual representation of information served up with a healthy dose of innovation and creativity. A truly stunning data viz becomes more than the sum of its parts. This new digital alchemy can turn a simple spreadsheet into something that can shake up the debate, measure progress or even change the world.

This periodic table of visualization methods by the folks over at VisualLiteracy.org illustrates a number of different elements or viz building blocks. A data viz can take the form of an infographic, a timeline or a map. It can be a motion chart, a short video clip, an interactive dashboard, or even a web app.

Below, you'll find six examples of data visualization from around the web and across the globe that provide an overview of the techniques and approaches to data visualization.

1. Work With Passion Like Hans Rosling

Data_viz_1.jpg

Any discussion about data visualization has to start with Hans Rosling. He is a professor of international health and co-founder/director of the Gapminder Foundation. He created the Trendalyzer, an advanced motion chart that makes statistics come alive.

If you are not excited about the power of data visualization, you will be after this video of his talk at TED where he talks about health in the developing world. The magic begins at around three minutes in:

You can make your own international health comparisons using an interactive motion chart or download the free Gapminder desktop application for a hands-on data experience.

2. Visual Can Also Be Visceral

Latoya Egwuekwe, a former classmate of mine at American University's Interactive Journalism program, made national headlines with her visualization of county-level unemployment data. See it for yourself: The Geography of a Recession. This viz has received over 1 million hits since it was launched in October 2009.

Data_viz_2.jpg

Every day, I work with labor statistics and I am still floored every time I see this viz. It goes to show that you don't have to be a pro to have an impact. Around the web, students, citizen journalists and bloggers are breaking new ground.

3. Making a Story Hit Home

Data visualizations can be used to tease out and illustrate trends from data in new and unexpected ways.

Timothy Noah over at Slate introduced the concept of "the Great Divergence" and then he used a data viz to take readers on a visual tour of income inequality in America.

data_viz_3.jpg

Dubbed the United States of Inequality, this 10-part series and viz shows a widening income gap.

4. Use Motion to Move Your Audience

A visual look at aging around the world by General Electric incorporates motion beautifully. It allows you to compare age cohorts from different countries over time -- think Baby Boomers, Generation X, etc. Watch as your generation grows old and dies based on United Nations population projections.

data_viz_4.jpg

This viz is called Our Aging World and is presented as an interactive motion chart.

5. Seeing Something in a New Light

This viz by NMAP.org shows the web like you've never seen it before. If you've ever clicked a mouse before, you're probably familiar with favicons -- the tiny images that appear next to the website URL in the address bar of your browser. This viz includes close to 300,000 of them.

data_viz_5.jpg

The size of a company's favicon corresponds to the reach of its website on the web. As you might have guessed, Google is the largest. Check out Icons of the Web, a gigapixel image with an interactive viewer.

6. What's A Billion Dollars Between Friends?

Visualizing numbers can add context to any story. Last but not least, we have a viz by Information is Beautiful's David McCandless. It's called the Billion Dollar-O-Gram and is an interactive tree map. He created this viz out of frustration with media reports citing billion-dollar amounts without providing the proper context.

data_viz_6.jpg

Not only is this viz useful and informative, it's also an example of open data in action. McCandless does something that should be an industry standard -- he links to the entire data set used to create the viz. You can also see how he has updated the viz over time; view the original version, which uses different facts and figures.

How Else Can Journalists Use This?

Besides using them to tell data stories, journalists can use visualizations in the newsroom or on the go for several essential activities. Here are a few more examples of how data visualization can play a role in finding, processing and communicating information:

The Most Beautiful Viz You Have Ever Seen

What is the most beautiful viz you have ever seen? What is your favorite viz of all time?

My pick for most beautiful is more form than function. It's Chris Harrison's Visualizing the Bible. Check it out for yourself.

data_viz_beautiful.jpg

My current favorite viz is a triple threat. It's beautiful, useful and also a great way to link to old movie reviews. It's the New York Times' Ebb and Flow of Movies.

I'd be doing you a disservice if I also didn't share with you a data visualization that I produced. This viz examines the state of the nuclear stockpile, and is called Between Five Countries, Thousands of Nukes.

Please share your favorite examples of data visualization in the comments, and stay tuned for my future posts about this emerging storytelling form.

Anthony Calabrese is journalist based in Washington, D.C., who specializes in data visualization and digital storytelling. He works as a web producer for the State of the USA where he blogs about measuring the nation's progress. Previously, he worked as a data researcher on the Best Colleges and Best Graduate Schools publications at U.S. News & World Report. He holds a master's degree in interactive journalism from American University and is an active member of the Online News Association.
You can follow him on Twitter @2mrw

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September 17 2010

17:00

Yeah, but what does it mean for journalism? A visual rhetoric guide

It’s become something of a Twitter joke. A new gadget appears, or a dramatic development takes place on the world stage, and the cry goes up: But what does it mean for journalism? I’m guilty of it myself. And a lot of the time, it’s a meaningful question to ask; we are in the future-of-journalism business, after all. What would we spend our day doing if not inquiring about what it — all of it– means for journalism.

That said, I wanted to try a little experiment. And so using Wordle, some time-delimited Google searches, and quick-and-dirty cutting and pasting, I decided to take a look at how the conversation about “what it means for journalism” might have changed, or not changed, since 2008.

The results are below. But first, a little bit about what I did. I plugged a few searches into Google, namely “what” AND “future of journalism.” I time-delimited the search, looking only for results from 2008, then only from 2009, then only 2010. I scraped the text from all my results, and dropped them into OpenOffice. I then deleted all mentions of “journalism,” “media,” and “news,” figuring they’d be the most common and least interesting answers, and wanting to weigh the words without them included in Wordle. And here’s what I got.

2008 [full-size version here]: Words that jump out: “public,” “interest,” “material,” “interactivity,” “information.” The combination of “public” and “interest” are the most interesting to me here. It was an election, after all, perhaps there was a bit more discussion of that amorphous body we call “the public,” and how it relates to changes in journalism. There’s a little about journalists, though not as much as we’ll see in 2009.

2009 [full size]: “Public” has disappeared, as has “information.” It’s been replaced by “people,” “journalist,” “online,” “world,” “web,” “paper,” and “think.” There’s some question about medium at play here; this was the year of “what comes after newspapers die,” after all. I have to admit I was a little surprised there weren’t more words having to do with “morbidity” here, stuff like “death,” “dying,” “disappearing, or “crisis.” But I think the focus on “journalist” here reflects the industry crisis in its own way — as in, what about all those people losing their jobs?

2010 [full size]: Now here’s the “what does it mean for journalism” conversation I remember — iPad and WikiLeaks. Will either of them save journalism? We’ll see what the rest of the year brings, but for now, it looks to me like a fairly abstract conversation about journalism and the public has been replaced by a debate over particular types of mediums (paper and web), which has itself been supplanted by a focus on particular organizations and devices.

Now, all of this is incredibly crude measurement, and there’s a ton wrong with it. (Let’s just say my methodology wouldn’t pass peer review.) Time-limited Google searching is imperfect, and of course I’ve totally left out stuff like Twitter and Facebook. But I think there’s a germ of potential here for mapping particular forms of dialog around particular key phrases. I’d love to work with any data-happy, data-mining Twitter scholars or smart Google engineers to pursue this line of work further. Drop me a line if you’re interested.

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