Archive for the ‘mapping’ category

Dataviz of the Week: Map It Yourself

3, October, 2008

FortiusOne, a Washington-area digital mapping company, has released something called Maker!. It’s a roll-your-own data visualization tool that allows you to mash up maps with a database and produce something that makes Google Maps look like they were produced by a computer running Windows386.

Below is a Flash-based map that takes a database of funding that’s gone to tech companies based on size and location. You can instantly see where the money is going.

The data is entirely play-friendly–zoom into geographic areas, choose big or small investments, etc.

Here I’ve zeroed in on the D.C. area, where I ply my trade. A popover shows me that one of the big recipients of capital in my home town is Clearspring, the nation’s lead widgeteer. [Huh. I wonder if they are hiring extremely good natured, value-priced, virtually hairless web consultants.] But it also reveals dozens of digital businesses I’d never heard of–GeniusRocket, Acumen, Price Comparison Guru, Brainware–within a 20-minute commute of my home.

The site is easy to build with [though beyond the skills of rank amateurs]. And it’s already got a gallery full of some fascinating stuff.

Let’s say, for instance, that you’re a political operative trying to target women aged 18 to 30 to vote in November. Bam, you’ve got a map that breaks down this population down to county and city level, all across the U.S.

Of course, such a map could have multiple uses. Let’s say you’re an unmarried man aged 18 to 30 wondering where the numbers are most likely to work in your favor, potential-mate-wise.

Gentlemen, start your engines.

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Dataviz of the Week: Failed States [Other than Ours]

10, September, 2008

As we brace for the hysterical doom-and-bloom rhetoric of the general election, what better time than now to explore cases of real national failure and success?

The image above is a datavisualization of The Failed States Index, a report co-published by the Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy magazine. It evaluates 177 countries in terms of how close they are to, well, failure. [More on this below.]

As I have confessed repeatedly here, I’m a big fan of “dataviz,” as it’s known in the trade. Data visualizations demonstrate the power of images to illuminate information in ways that words alone cannot. I think journalists, educators and all professional communicators ignore dataviz at their peril.

Anyhow, the Failed States map is pretty simple as these graphic explainers go. The work of a map geek who goes by the handle “Ender,” the dataviz essentially turns each country’s failure index number into a color, allowing you to eyeball the places on the world map where countries are teetering on the edge of national catastrophe.

The visuals force fascinating questions to mind:

  • Is it significant that so many states near failure are located near the equator?
  • Why do nations seem to be stabler the closer they are to the North and South poles–with the glaring exception of Russia?
  • Why makes Ghana so much more stable than Guatemala?
  • What measures of national stability rank Portugal above the U.S.?
  • Why are China and Russia closer to failure than Cuba?
  • What happy sauce do they drink in Chile that makes that nation as stable as our own?

Which brings us back to the underlying data.

The Failed State Index is a calculation based on information about each country regarding 12 criteria, a research-and-analysis process that’s been vetted and validated by multiple layers of academics and globalist wonks.

Measures of national stability accounted for include Legacy of Vengeance-Seeking Group Grievance or Group Paranoia,Uneven Economic Development along Group Lines,” Suspension or Arbitrary Application of the Rule of Law,” “Widespread Violation of Human Rights,” “Progressive Deterioration of Public Services,” “Rise of Factionalized Elites,” and “Sharp and/or Severe Economic Decline.”

Maybe I’ve been following the presidential race too much, but this sound a lot like the talking points of the guests on both MSNBC and Fox News.

Obviously, people in this relatively stable nation-state of ours are very polarized over the forthcoming presidential election. I’m already hearing people recite the common refrain, “If [the other guy] wins, I’m moving to Canada.”

But why choose our neighbor to the north, which is hardly more stable than Austria, for god’s sake?

Using the handy Failed States datavisualization, it’s easy to see that if you’re looking for a rock-solid haven free of political instablity to sit out an unbearable presidential administration. . . Norway is the place to go.


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Crowdsourcing Crime: UCrime.com

5, August, 2008

Geographic visualizations of crime data are already old hat. At least since 2005, when peerless journogeek Adrian Holovaty created chicagocrime.org, people have been mashing up public crime data with various maps to illustrate where, in a manner of speaking, the bodies are buried. [Chicagocrime.org has since been swept into Holovaty’s latest adventure, Everyblock.com.]

UCrime.com, a Baltimore startup launched last month, takes crime mashups to college, providing visual reports on incidents on over 100 college campuses. The picture is not always pretty. Here is a snapshot of the last six months of mischief that’s taken place at the University of Maryland at College Park, the school my son will be attending in the fall:

Looks like those crazy Terps have a blast on campus, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, take a look at Brigham Young. Crime? Not so much.

The icons are kind of humorous (unless of course you’re the victim of one of the incidents). A spray can shows malicious destruction of property, a moneybag is theft, a fist a simple assault. Handcuffs show a successful collar. Users can choose to view all crimes or just, say, burglaries.

While the site is just launched, it promises to introduce a couple of social media features. It appears students can join a sort of digital neighborhood watch and report crimes. Users can “comment” on specific incidents or collaborate like junior crimesolvers.

Crowdsourced crime reports, “reviews” of certain incidents, collective responses to crime. . .Call me a worrywart, but if I were running this site I’d want to have a skilled moderator–and an even more skilled lawyer on retainer.

It’s worth noting that there’s nothing new to the information here. Campus newspapers always run crime reports. Local cop agencies make this material public. UCrime simply collects the information over time, tags it by type and connects the crimes with geography.

But it’s a good illustration of the power of even a very simple data visualization. The medium transforms a public datastream into a compelling story about a community and what goes on there.

Of course, that story is misleading. Three top-of-the-head reasons:

  • A compact campus with a given level of crime looks more crime-dense than a spread-out one.
  • The visualization does not take into account the size of a student body–“there’s no denominator,” as they say in applied stats class.
  • A quick glance makes it hard to distinguish a campus where there are dozens of open-container violations from one with a lot of gunpoint robberies.

In the end, perhaps the most valuable service is the one that lets students get alerts–via mobile phone, if they like–of crimes occurring within a specified chunk of geography. It’s good to know two kids just had their laptops taken form a certain dorm, for instance.

Of course, there’s nothing keeping a parent from signing up for this service too.

Yikes. What dorm is my kid staying in this fall again?

DataViz[zes] of the Week: Google Election Map Gallery

1, July, 2008

I’ve long argued that journalists use too many words. Or, more precisely, they try to use them for everything.

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When all you have is a Microsoft Word and a deadline, everything looks like a 25-inch story.

Google’s just launched Elections ’08 Map Gallery illustrates the limitations of this approach.

Want to know how John McCain got to where he is today? You can read this four-screen, tiny-type piece at biography.com. It’s well-researched and full of important information and fair-minded observations. Or you can click around John McCain’s Journey, one of several maps in the gallery.

McCain-by-Map

You will find a biography organized by geography (a geo-bio!), starting in the Panama Canal Zone (where he was born) to. . .1600 Pennsylvania Ave. (?). You won’t get much intellectually satisfying detail from the map–no Keating Five, no material about his days at the Naval Academy, nothing about his role as a “maverick.” If real journalism were poured into the framework, you’d have a great product that could reach a lot more people than the highly literate biography.com version.

Google, of course, knows from search. And so one of the more successful Election 08 maps is a geography of search queries by candidate name. [Earth to Mountain View: Hillary Clinton is out. You may remove her from the election maps now.]

Michigan Search Election Map

Others have reported this search query data in print–it’s a fun [if dangerous] parlor game to use search volume as a marker of public sentiment. But once again, a visual, geography-based presentation that offers real-time search data offers a completely different view of election dynamics.

And finally, a video-based map, which essentially does away with both words and numbers. Obama Videos is a map showing where Obama delivered key speeches, with each location linked to a video of that speech.

Obama Video Map

This is great stuff. With Google’s mashup tools being wide open for use, the gallery is likely to grow and get weirder [A Map of Lies! The Flip Flop Highway!].

I, for one, think it’s going to be a much more entertaining election season thanks to these visualizations. Will it produce a better informed, more engaged public? We’ll see. There’s promise that some of these maps will capture different kinds of citizen participation–the “wisdom” of the crowds writ large. The Election Search map is an example.

One map shows real-time election-based Twitter items geographically. It’s about as exciting as watching gum being chewed. But it’s a start.

Obesity Map: Just What the Web Doc Ordered

30, July, 2007

Let’s start the week with an item from the Web Done Right files: 

Take a look at CNN’s Fit Nation “Obesity in America” map. The feature illustrates, via a timeline slider and interactive national map, how much each state’s percentage of obese people increased between 1985 and 2004. It’s a great example of how a simple, often neglected 1.0 technique–Flash–can be effective when used properly.

There’s an even more effective rendering of the geography of obesity over at Revolution Health. Mouse over any state to see its obesity rate during any of the years covered, 1990 through 2006. [Interest revealed: I used to work at Revolution.]

The point: plain old-fashioned Web technology can be a powerful centerpiece even when surrounded by the usual 2.0fferings: UGC, vanity videos, blogs, etc. The temptation these days is to favor the faddish over the effective. Both sites show this isn’t necessary.

[Oddly, the CNN map shows the states with the highest obesity rates in red and those with lower rates in blue. The results is a map showing blue and red states. I wonder if Wolf Blitzer known about this.]