Friday, June 17, 2011

The data visualisation revolution: coming to geography!

Left image: Ancient data: Rosetta Stone, British Museum, London.
Right image: Government, home of data! Parliament House Canberra, Australia.

Related sites to the Spatialworlds project
Spatialworlds website
21st Century Geography Google Group
Australian Geography Teachers' Association website
'Towards a National Geography Curriculum' project website
Geography Teachers' Association of South Australia website
Email contact

Where am I??
Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

The data visualisation revolution: making sense of data, any data in the information culture

It is often cited that “85% of data in the 21st Century is attached to place”. Regardless of the source of this quote, few would argue with its truth. It seems that tables alone of data does not ‘rub it’ any more for us. People expect to either see the data associated with a visualisation or in some cases just the visualisation will do to give an idea of what is happening. To meet this trend software developers are working on creating free visualisation tools for us to turn data into visualisations using just a few clicks. This data visualisation revolution has huge potential for geography classes to tap into a plethora of unique data (often citizen entered data sets) and to turn the data into visualisations across space at a range of scales depending if the data is local, national, regional or global. This posting highlights just several of the newly created data table repository and visualisation sites which are increasingly accessible and functionally friendly (still a way to go though!). As the on-line data visualisation revolution continues I am sure they will become more extensive and user friendly with greater functionality. It is worth those interested in spatial technology and geography to get a start with these sites now and think about their application in the classroom.

In relation to this revolution, Alex Howard, government 2.0 beat writer for O'Reilly Media says:

"One of the biggest challenges government agencies, municipalities and any other body has is converting open data to information which people can take knowledge from. One of the most powerful ways humanity has developed to communicate information over time is through maps. If you can take data in an open form - and CSV files are one of the most standard formats available - then you have an opportunity to tell stories in a way that's relevant to a region and personalized to an individual. That's a meaningful opportunity.”

Here are just some of the sites to get started.

1. Factual: constantly evolving data on thousands of topics.
Factual provides simple application programming interfaces (API) for building Web and mobile apps. For instance, it provides data on local geographies. According to Factual, the datasets include businesses and points of interest (parks, airports, theaters, tourist attractions, etc.), and attributes include: name, address, phone, category and latitude/longitude

2. Yahoo pipes: Pipes is a powerful composition tool to aggregate, manipulate, and mashup content from around the web. Learn How to Build a Pipe in just a few minutes on Yahoo!

3. Stunning data visualisations of everything!

4. Google Fusion Tables Google Fusion Tables is a Google Labs project. It is a data management tool to host, manage, collaborate on, visualize, and publish data tables.

Fusion Tables is a service for managing large collections of tabular data in the cloud. You can upload tables of up to 100MB and share them with collaborators, or make them public. You can apply filters and aggregation to your data, visualize it on maps and other charts, merge data from multiple tables, and export it to the Web or csv files. You can also conduct discussions about the data at several levels of granularity, such as rows, columns and individual cells.”
Here is a brief Youtube and tutorial on Google Fusion – as it grows, just watch this sopace as a great resource for schools to thematisise data.

5. OpenHeatMap: Custom heat maps for geodata: turning data into maps.
OpenHeatMap has been called 'YouTube for maps'. If you have location data in an Excel spreadsheet, you can save it out as a CSV file, upload it to OpenHeatMap and get an interactive online map that you can customize, share and embed.

“Curious about where people around the world are Tweeting about a particular topic the most? Want to see world income levels as reported over the last 100 years by the World Bank, playing forward like a little movie map? Got your own data set you want to put on a map? That's what OpenHeatMap can do."

As with all these tools a degree of computer expertise is required (re: uploading apps, downloading plug-ins etc). This video may help the learning curve.

6. Socrata is one of a handful of companies and organizations that are shaping the open data movement in government. The company provides ways for federal, state and local governments to make data available online in a simple-to-use. No wonder freedom of information is such a hot topic in our society these days!

It is also opportune while on this topic to refer to the Educational Services Australia (ESA) Data Genie which is a great data resource for geography and the fact that the ESA is about to launch Spatial Genie next week. Will keep you in the loop when it is live.

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