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The Year In Data

A selection of the best of the best of OWNI's weekly round-up of data on the web, from a year that's seen so many wonderful, innovative, inventive, colorful, moving and funny data projects.

by Paule d'Atha On December 28, 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.

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Owni’s data team – collectively known as Paule d’Atha – are pleased to present a selection of the best of the best of their weekly round-up of data on the web, from a year that’s seen so many wonderful, innovative, inventive, colorful, moving and funny projects.

The future is on the cards

The World of Seven Billion is a project powered by National Geographic to celebrate the arrival of the seven billionth person on Earth. The contrast between the black background and the bright colors used to represent different income levels, coupled with population density, across all five continents gives the map a beautiful clarity. Using public data from the World Bank, it also presents current indicators of public health, education, fertility and access to technology in its effective no-frills style.


Open Montréal

We know you’ve always dreamed of spending a day in the shoes of an elected Quebecois representative, haven’t you? Now the district of Plateau-Mont Royal in Montreal has turned that dream into reality. On the district’s website (in French), citizens are invited to voice their opinion on budget priorities, via an application. Except it’s not enough simply to say “I’d do this,” “I’d cut taxes,” “I’d create more green spaces.” The user must prove it by choosing among the proposed measures concerning the district’s facilities: libraries, swimming pools and paddling pools, snow removal, waste collection, hygiene etc.

For example, if you believe the district should maintain a fleet of vehicles to remove snow from footpaths during major cold snaps, you’d have to spend $500,000 a year. Your budget is now in deficit: you must cut costs from another activity. Cancel waste collection on public holidays? That’ll save you $140,060. You have a little breathing space now: what will you do? Once your budget is balanced, you can submit proposals to district officials, who have committed to take a look at all of them.

This application is at the forefront of ”open government” thinking: combining open data, education (managing a collective budget, which, as it turns out, is not that simple), and useful citizen participation. Like Sim City for real life.


Weather, feelings and the economy

Representations of mass movements, of their moods, their opinions, or their geographic footprint have caught our attention in the past. And this new production (in HTML5, obviously) by the New York Times has done that again. What’s Your Economic Outlook? is a crowdsourcing application developed by Tom Jackson, Daniel McDermon and Aron Pilhofer, which asks readers their feelings about the future, their own jobs, the economy and future generations. And of course, to compare themselves to other users. The graphical rendering can display the whole of the study or filter just the content that’s of interest to you. It’s original, readable and clean and — though probably not representative of the US population — is an interesting insight into the minds of the readers who responded to the survey. For the sociologists amongst you who’d like to go beyond the simple graphical representation, the user comments are certainly worth a gander – as much for their reasons for hope as for the negative sentiments that broadly run through them.

Economy Sentiment

If there is one topic which unifies humanity that has survived the migration to the digital and immaterial (other than sex, that is), it is the weather. There are an indecent number of websites devoted to this science of the improbable, whose predictions we we love to criticize. Enter James Diebel and Jacob Norda, and their concept: WeatherSpark. Based on data from weather.gov, the National Meteorological Institute of Norway, and APIs from the sites World Weather Online and Weather Central, these two young Californian engineers have created a top-class interactive interface that allows you to browse the data in an extremely intuitive and almost playful manner.


Liberty, fraternity, inequality

Jean Abbiateci’s map of income inequality in the French region of Ile-de-France is a data project we found on the indispensable blog of Elsa Fayne. The map presents three indicators: the level of income inequality amongst households in and around Paris, the evolution of these inequalities over time and for comparison the median income tax. Each indicator is explained in further detail town by town with specific visualizations.

The approach explained in the article (in French) accompanying the map, further distinguishes the project in terms of  accessibility. Jean Abbiateci has used the distribution of tax revenues reported by households from 2001 to 2009 — public data from the INSEE — to which he applied two traditional indicators to measure inequality: the ratio between the amount earned by the richest 10% and the poorest 10%, and the Gini coefficient. All of which is thrown into a free visualization tool which adapts Google Maps to make it all understandable, detailed and interactive.


Democracy in Lusitania

In October the Open Government Data Camp was held in Warsaw. Two of the most interesting, of around 400 participants, were the two designers of Manufactura Independente, a design studio based in Porto who came to present the most recent project in which they participated: Demo.cratica, a tool to explore the Portuguese parliament through data.

Democratica’s calendar of sessions from 2009 allows the user to navigate through transcripts of the debates. Hovering over a date on the calendar displays the word most often cited in that day’s speeches, practical for browsing the various topics addressed. When you look at the transcript of a parliamentary session, in addition to the texts of the responses, Democratica provides a “statistical” visualization of the exchanges. You can easily see which group in parliament has spoken the most, even which members within that group, and the major themes addressed.


Data-music (movement n°1)

The positively sumptuous Baroque.me visualizes the first Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suites in a mathematical manner. The project represents the notes as chords and transpose their length and structure. How to show in an interactive and innovative manner that classical music involves specific organizational patterns.

Explaining with boxes

In this video, Visualizing How A Population Grows To 7 Billion, Adam Cole and Maggie Starbard of NPR have (what looks like a lot of) fun simulating the evolution of the world’s population using colored liquids flowing through holes in glasses calibrated to data on the demographic shifts of the continents over time. The result is not only understandable at first glance – the most important quality of data representation – it’s also elegant.

Which brings us back to an old gem. Whether you’ve seen it already or not, the brilliant Hans Rosling and his explanation of world population growth is always a pleasure to watch. Datavision, as taught by the master David McCandless, involves some good data, a beautiful vision, and the talent to bring the whole thing together. And it definitely takes talent to get an audience excited using only plastic boxes from IKEA.

The semantics of faith

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 year. 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 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 neatly presented on 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.

Bible et Coran

A story of flows

We’ve all been amazed, at one time or another, by pictures of Earth as seen from space. Particularly amazing are those images that allow us make out the contours of our continents by the lights of our megacities at night. Born of human beings’ domination and influence over their environment, this glittering vision of the world is part of the anthropocene. It inspired the Canadian anthropologist Felix Pharand-Deschenes of the Globaia.org site to create some magnificent visualizations of Earth using public data: cities, roads, railways, airlines, power lines, Internet cables…

The mobility of Americans is legendary. Last year, nearly 40 million of them moved house, 10% of those moving from one state to another. Forbes journalist Jon Bruner took data from the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) to create an interactive map of county by county migration flows between 2005 and 2009. Apart from being simple, pretty and informative, the map is a remarkably fun way to deepen your knowledge of the geography of the United States.


Crowdsourcing Afghanistan and Egypt

For seven years The Asia Foundation have been carrying out opinion polling on the Afghan population, gauging their perception of the political changes and developments that have taken place in their daily lives. In 2011, they interviewed 6,348 Afghan citizens living throughout the 34 provinces of the country.

The interactive application Visualizing Afghanistan allows the user to navigate through the results of this study in three ways: chronologically (from 2006 to 2011), by topic (the user can select the questions in the upper right-hand corner) and using the map, by accessing the detailed responses by region.

There is a depth to the application that’s particularly revealing and useful in putting the data into perspective. So to the question, “Does your family live better today than when the Taliban were in power?”, the answer is mixed in the South (33% no, 34% yes), while the central region (Hazarjat) is more unanimous – 67% say they live better now than under the Taliban.

Visualizing Afghanistan

Mapping harassment

Geolocalisation, crowdsourcing and data were in the news this year when the story broke that two journalists had been victims of sexual assault in Egypt while covering events in Tahrir Square.

Those events helped to reveal the extent of the problem of the harassment of women, which has become a real scourge in Egypt. According to The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR), 83% of Egyptian women and 98% of foreign women are harassed in Egypt.

Harass Map, a platform developed by Ushahidi, allows women to anonymously report incidents where they have been the victim of sexual assault. There are four methods of reporting such incidents: by SMS, by Twitter, by mail or using a form on the site. The site then aggregates on a map the various reports.

Ushahidi specialize in the production of open source software and platforms for crowdsourcing and geolocalisation. They previously created a platform after the earthquake in Haiti to help pinpoint areas in need of assistance. The SMS system uses Frontline SMS, another open source project that allows citizens and NGO’s to send free SMS messages from anywhere in the world as long as there is a mobile signal.


The project plans to reinvest the SMS revenue into initiatives to fight against the harassment of women.

Data-music (movement n°2)

Stephen Malinowski played the piano for two decades before beginning a career as a programmer. At the intersection of these two paths The Music Animation Machine was born, a phenomenal visualization concept achieved using a simple piece of software that Malinowski himself created. Enjoy the results below with Frédéric Chopin’s famous Nocturne opus 9 No. 2 in E flat major, composed when Chopin was just 20 years old. And we strongly encourage you to explore the geometric universe of Malinowski, which will fill your dreams with circles, squares, diamonds and all the colors of the rainbow.

While the pols cavil…

Mediarena breaks down how the mainstream online media are covering the French presidential campaign. It’s designed and developed by Nils Grünwald, Stéphane Raux, Alexis Jacomy and Ronan Quidu. Everything is there at first glance, and the interaction is incredibly intuitive. With a few clicks, the user can play around with the data and scroll through the list of headlines. Beyond the simplicity and readability, Mediarena gives the user access to a huge amount of data that provides context and depth to their chosen angle of research.


Reading the riots

Our friends at the Guardian released a very nice interactive visualization on the London riots. Alastair Dant and his colleagues decided to analyze the evolution of rumors on Twitter during the events. Rumors like: “The rioters have released the animals in London Zoo” and “The rioters are making their own sandwiches in McDonalds.” You choose one of seven rumors – five of which are false, one unproven and one accurate – to see their evolution. The replay is intelligently constructed, including a visual identification of tweets that were supportive of the rumor, opposed it, questioned it or simply commented, and highlighting key moments where the dissemination of the rumor evolved. And, since the Guardian love to share, they’ve even given us a “making of” for this datavisualization, which provides an insight into the importance of teamwork, integrating journalists, developers, designers and academics.

London Riots

Best of the best, of the best

Like everyone else, the data world can’t resist the tradition of the end of year Best Of lists. This one from Visualizing.org rewinds the film of 2011 in a poetic way:

So have a happy New Year, and we’ll see you in 2012 for lots more beautiful web-apps, datavisualizations, snappy infographics and a huge helping of Open Data and Open Gov.

Image Credits: Screen Captures, Flickr CC max_thinks_sees

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