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July 02 2010


Local history as a game (MA Online Journalism multimedia projects pt2)

Following on from the previous post on serious music journalism using data, here’s some more detail on how MA Online Journalism students have been exploring multimedia journalism.

Using data to shed light on dangers for cyclists

Dan Davies explored video and mapping audio before catching the data bug – in this case, around cycling collisions. Like Caroline, he sourced data from a range of sources, including media reports, an RSS feed from FixMyStreet, another RSS feed from Google News, Freedom of Information requests – and getting out there and collecting it himself.

He’s visualised the data in a range of ways at Birmingham Cycle Data, using tools such as Yahoo! Pipes and ManyEyes, and collaborated with cycling communities too. The results provide a range of insights into transport issues for cyclists:

“Click on the individual lines. If you click on the purple line it shows six southbound cars went through on two ocassions. Generally, the spikes alternate according to the traffic lights. But some traffic is so busy it hardly ever gets to zero. The safest time to cross for cyclists was at 16:46 when three bicycles got through the lights without other traffic piling across.”

“If you swap the three arrows at the top of the table around so it reads Road Name > Accident Severity > Ward it shows the most dangerous road in Birmingham. As any Brum cyclist might have anticipated, the answer is Stratford Road. However, the grey lines within the box currently mark accident severity so by that rationale it should be High St which has had 3 serious accidents. Until you realise these accidents took place on different High Streets. The same problem exists with Church Rd.”

They also provide useful lessons in interpreting and cleaning data.

Civic history as a game

In addition to the cycling data project, Dan created ‘Spaghetti Junctions‘ – a game centred on cultural facts and urban myths about Birmingham. The site – which is basically a Wordpress blog that allows users admin access – explains:

“You score 10 points if you post. You also score 10 points if you upload a photo with your post. And we give you another 10 points if you locate the post on the Spaghetti Junctions map.

“A fact is called a Bull’s Eye worth 50 points
“A myth is called a Chinny Reckon worth 25 points
“An entertaining myth is a Super Chinn worth 100 points
“You can state whether you think it is a Bull’s Eye or Chinny Reckon by selecting a category when you post. Only the Chinnmaster can award a Super Chinn.

“Anyone can dispute a fact or myth by leaving a comment under a post. The Chinnmaster will check this.”

Those familiar with local history in Birmingham will understand what a ‘Chinny’ refers to.

More information on how the site is constructed can be found in this blog post. It’s a fascinating experiment in engaging people with their local history – and checking those oft-repeated civic boasts.

Next: using data to scrutinise local swimming facilities.

March 10 2010


Bike maps: Triumph of corporate solutions over grassroots?

Today, Google Maps is rolling out bicycle directions:

There are a number of existing bike map providers, many of which have grown through community-provided, crowd-sourced data. One could argue that these projects have struggled to garner sufficient participation to really take off:

Now, all at once, Google is offering bike maps in 150 cities with relatively comprehensive routes. As the Wired article states, "No longer do [bikers] have to rely upon paper maps or open-source DIY map hacking...."

Google has been able to do this by leveraging its deep resources to get data sets from a wide variety of organizations, and to throw a team of full-time programmers at the task; resources that the DIY map providers were unable to garner.

Does this spell the end for DIY cycle mapping? Will having a major commercial bike map provider decrease people's motivation to contribute their own routes or use potentially clunkier interfaces? Can we learn something here about the relationship between crowd-sourced, DIY public services and corporate takeovers?

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