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Data Journalism

The Week in Data

This week OWNI's data journalists have been playing with Rubik's cubes, rating their governments, running the New York City marathon and comparing the Bible and the Koran. It's The Week in Data...

by Paule d'Atha On November 21, 2011

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À propos de l'auteur

Paule d'Atha désigne l'équipe des journalistes de données d'Owni : Julien Goetz, Sylvain Lapoix et Nicolas Patte. Twitter @pdatha.


Related posts

This endless torrent of information known as “data” is one of our greatest passions here at OWNI. As it seems you lot are quite interested in it too, we thought we’d share a few of our favourite examples of data-journalism on the web each week.

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Whether it was a source of fascination or of nightmares for you, inevitably at some moment in your life you were faced with the supremely addictive puzzle known as the Rubik’s Cube. This week we’re inviting you to revisit this test of logic and balance, with a data version that’s as challenging as it is promising.

The E-cube-Librium project, developed by the mysterious Damon, visualizes the development of the world and its various components in the form of a Rubik’s cube.

On each of its six faces, Damon has placed different indicators (some of those indicators are found on more than one surface) according to three main pillars:

  • Social development: human development index (HDI), population health, rates of employment
  • Environment: access to water, CO2 emissions
  • Economic development: growth rate of GDP per capita, urbanization, health care costs

The overall visual of the cube allows the user to identify the most developed areas, and those where there is still work to do. Most importantly, and in keeping with the rules of the Rubik’s Cube, every sector is correlated with each other, in order to move towards more balanced growth: for example, the rate of GDP growth is reflected in relation to CO2 emissions.

Using data on sustainable development from the United Nations, Damon created the visualization for a dozen countries, relating to the four time periods the data permitted: 1990-1995, 1995-2000, 2000-2005, 2005-2010. “From these visualizations and 3D projections, it’s easy to draw connections and visually identify what factors affect the balance of the global system. With this E-cube system, we can begin to rotate the puzzle in order to solve these equations, or at least prevent them from becoming even more unbalanced,” Damon explains on his website.

Our only regrets are that the artwork is not a little neater, and just one animation means we can’t take a look at the evolution of cubes over the four time periods. But the project is still in its infancy…

Republicans and religion

From playing with shapes, to playing with words. Semantic analysis is an area that we follow closely here at OWNI, and two projects in particular caught our attention this week.

The first focuses on two of the biggest bestsellers of all time: the Bible and the Koran.

Pitch Interactive (whose slogan is “Doing Good with Data”) wanted to deconstruct the prejudices often associated with these two sacred books, such as the idea that the Koran is a “violent” book. To do this, they analyzed the contents of the Bible and the Koran. The result of their research is presented in a HTML5 app, which allows the user to search for a topic and compare the frequency of its occurrence in the two books.

The references and contents of the verses that mention a particular topic are shown, allowing the user to navigate deep into the text of the books and re-locate each word in context.

Statistical data is also presented for each topic: number of occurrences, number of verses that mention the word, percentage of verses referring to it (which is important, the Bible being much longer than the Koran). Try it out with ‘TRUST’, ‘FORGIVE’ or ‘PEACE’ – the results are quite striking.

The second example revolves around the world of politics and will be one to follow in the coming weeks. The project Politilines aims to visualize the words used during the Republican primary debates in the US. This app shows the relationship between the most used words, the subjects to which they relate and the candidates that use them most, all within a very simple navigation. For the more curious among you, their method is explained in a little more detail in the “Methods and source” tab.

Getting around

A competition launched by the Creads agency and CheckMyMetro to create a new Parisian subway map is now over, and the entries can be found here. You have until November 21 to vote for your favorite map. Many dozens of projects were submitted, some of which caught our eye:

  • a geolocalised map (the stations are in their exact location in relation to each other), which also takes into account the distances from platform to platform when a change has to be made, is usable by the color blind, and which sticks (almost) to the official RATP line colors, an essential reference element.
  • an artistic map, done with Indian ink, pencil and watercolor
  • a retro map, in the style of the 1900 metro
  • a vegetable map, where the metro lines have grown leaves
  • a printed circuit board version, where the metro map reminds us of our current technology …

Then you can click on this app and dream, once again, of all the services that could be created when the data from the SNCF and RATP is opened up. This Dutch app, like the Locomote application developed by Isokron in Rennes, is used to display distances via public transport from one point to another in a country. A certain graininess in the choices and beautiful design work makes this application particularly successful.

But data journalists are interested in more than just public transport. Running can also be a subject, or at least the gateway to some interesting data work. Evidence for that comes from The New York Times. We shared this link around the office with a little accompanying commentary: “Yeah well, it’s the New York Times isn’t it…” A brilliant and relevant idea realized simply, aesthetically and effectively. It’s the kind of project that makes us jealous.

Their journalists noticed that, since 1976, the New York City marathon course hasn’t changed much. Which is in contrast to the neighborhoods and zones it passes through, particularly in terms of average income and ethnic diversity. The Times have represented these developments in a data visualization video, showing on a map the route of the marathon. For each criterion (average income, presence of African Americans, Caucasians, etc..) the curve appears above or below the route of the marathon depending on whether the data has increased or decreased.

Staying in New York (partly): the Occupy Wall Street movement continues on in various forms, and each week we highlight an interesting OWS data treatment. This week it’s the work of Jenn Finnäs. On a map and a calendar he’s listed the number of movements worldwide claiming to be a part of this protest movement. And he explains how he did it. With data from the site meetup.com (which helps coordinates the movement), a ruby script and a little formatting work – presto, he created this pretty web visual.

Also worth noting is the Guardian initiative aimed at identifying the different movements by means of crowdsourcing.

Open Data

This week Norway launched its own Open Data Portal. As there is no English version we’ll leave it to our huge readership in Norway to let us know about the contents of the site.

The initiative should in any case allow Norway to figure a little higher in the Open Government rankings put together by Digital Daya.

The result is graphically pretty average, made with StatPlanet, a free online visualization tool. But the content is a lot more powerful. For each country in the world, Digital Daya assess their level in relation to two criteria: the level of openness of their government (closed, eligible, open) and its capacity in terms of government 2.0 (no activity, novice, skilled, authority). It makes for a good overview of the level of openness of governments around the world.

Another achievement in Open Data philosophy, Haiti Aid Map identifies and geolocalizes aid projects launched in Haiti following the earthquake of January 2010. The data can be searched by town, sector or by organization. Each project has a description, schedule, budget and a note on those financing the project. All the data is exportable in csv, xml or in excel.

This Christmas, enjoy your data dashboard

Bloomberg has offered a full homepage dedicated to data (mostly their own) which is nevertheless quite nice. Chances are this initiative will be copied plenty more times around the world.


Follow OWNI’s data team on Twitter: @pdatha, @mariecoussin, @juliengoetz, @nicolaspatte & @gregoirenormand

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