Geography 970

March 22, 2010

Maps as portal for data, Go Figure

Filed under: Uncategorized — kjmcgrath @ 2:19 pm

Here is a short TED talk on the results of Tim Berners-Lee’s call for data that is open to the public. This original call for open and raw data fits into Mr. Merners-Lee view (and many others in fact!) that ease of use and open data leads to discovery. In his report about the results shows some of the clever, notable, and thought-provoking uses of data. The mode of compilation that I noticed most was the map. Geographers might automatically view the map as the prime method for culling and searching through data with a spatial component. Yet in the last few years viral graphics are often maps, and use of the maps as a tool to understand the world seems to be finally becoming a mainstream idea. With this movement towards the mainstream the data presented along with the presentation method are becoming more sophisticated as users become more literate. This movement towards graphics as explanatory and exploratory tools for data (while common for scientific-visualization, statisticians, cartographers, and others in related fields) seems to be the direction that designers and those that consume information are moving towards.

These issues of free and open data connect to a host of other issues including copyright, intellectual property, etc.  My feeling (one Mr. Merners-Lee seems espouse at TED) is that innovation in the culture and advancement due to new creation grows with openness and accessibility to data and more broadly ideas. Bringing more people into the fold and giving them raw data to use has many advantages and disadvantages. Primarily it opens up information about cultural, physical, and other environments facilitating comparison and correlation. However there are challenges for bad choices in representation or faulty use of data or decisions that fly in the faces of conventions set out by research in fields of cartography, semiotics, psychology, graphic design and others. While mistakes will inevitably made the possibilities for innovation and new and interesting stories coming forward makes this call for data timely and an important for the future.

Another related idea for meditation might be how can those who have been trained in graphic conventions and “best” practices inform new developments in this area. Also when we creating tools for visualizations how can we encourage amateur and untrained users towards conventions while not unnecessarily restricting them from innovation?


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