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July 30 2012


June 17 2010


“A super sophisticated mashup”: The semantic web’s promise and peril

[Our sister publication Nieman Reports is out with its latest issue, and its focus is the new digital landscape of journalism. There are lots of interesting articles, and we're highlighting a few. Here, former Knight Fellow Andrew Finlayson explains the role of journalists in the semantic web. —Josh]

In the movie Terminator, humanity started down the path to destruction when a supercomputer called Skynet started to become smarter on its own. I was reminded of that possibility during my research about the semantic web.

Never heard of the semantic web? I don’t blame you. Much of it is still in the lab, the plaything of academics and computer scientists. To hear some of them debate it, the semantic web will evolve, like Skynet, into an all powerful thing that can help us understand our world or create various crises when it starts to develop a form of connected intelligence.

Intrigued? I was. Particularly when I asked computer scientists about how this concept could change journalism in the next five years. The true believers say the semantic web could help journalists report complex ever-changing stories and reach new audiences. The critics doubt the semantic web will be anything but a high-tech fantasy. But even some of the doubters are willing to speculate that computers using pieces of the semantic Web will increasingly report much of the news in the not too distant future.

Keep reading at Nieman Reports »

March 26 2010


A New Battle Cry: Release the Raw Data for Better Visualization

The most elegant, user-friendly data visualization program is useless without data to visualize; and, historically, those who possess data are reluctant to share it.

Massive data has been dominated by a thin layer of elites, and sophisticated data-visualization tools -- such as heat maps, motion charts, time maps, and tag maps -- generally have remained within the domain of those elites. This monopoly has allowed very few to decide which data were important to visualize. They've created some dazzling digital narratives, but it was a one-way street -- very high-tech, but also very news 1.0/web 1.0.

Data Visualization For All

Happily, a movement is rising to pry data from those who hoard it. Tim Berners-Lee gave an inspiring talk at TED in 2009, challenging viewers to join him in a public drive for "Raw Data Now." In 2010, Berners-Lee returned to TED with news of progress, while also egging the U.S. and U.K. into a competition for who could release more data, and recounting the inspiring case of global open source mapping for Haiti following the catastrophic earthquake earlier this year.

Equally exciting, some extremely powerful data-visualization tools now are available for anyone to create visualizations within a semi-controlled space: Data360, and IBM's Many Eyes are two of the best. We at the Jefferson Institute just released betas for a set of highly abstracted Drupal data-visualization modules -- including an importer -- which dramatically increase the range of possibilities for using data in visual storytelling. Our aim is for Drupal users to unleash the power of these tools in their own site.

Yet, for news sites big and small, experimenting with data visualization presents a large, uncomfortable challenge: allowing users the creative freedom to play with the data behind a carefully prepared visualization -- and even enable them to upload their own data, much as a reader might comment on a blog or news article. It takes courage and patience. Users might create visualizations that are ugly, misguided, or intentional misrepresentations. But you have to break some eggs to make an omelet, and this is a challenge news organizations must embrace. It will be a key component to their survival in a world of savvy consumers armed with vast quantities of data.

Sea of Data

Busting the professional monopoly on determining which data stories to tell is essential, and it becomes even more important when we consider the sea of data in which we swim today -- which is only growing larger. Soon, RFID tags will be on everything, swelling the tidal surge of data to levels we hardly can fathom.

Jack Knight called for media to inform and enlighten, so the people might determine their own true interests. As we come to understand his exhortation's new, evolving meaning, we must continually challenge ourselves to break down professional barriers in order to empower the infinite diversity of equally true interests. "Raw Data Now" should be our battle cry, and open-source data visualization modules our weaponry.

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January 21 2010


data.gov.uk launches in public beta

As widely reported elsewhere, data.gov.uk is now available in public beta:

Data.gov.uk acts as an online point of access for government-held non-personal data. This is to enable people like you to take it, re-use it and make interesting things with.

Full introductory post at this link…

“It’s [government data] such an untapped resource,” Sir Tim Berners Lee told BBC News.

“Government data is something we have already spent the money on… and when it is sitting there on a disk in somebody’s office it is wasted.”

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