Everyone seems to be getting more and more interested in data. Like computer gaming – data has left nerd territory and entered into popular culture. It is even (dare I say it) cool.
It is not surprising. Technological innovation changes our attitudes, opinions and beliefs in ways we couldn’t have expected. The internet has accelerated the creation, spread and recording of data on a scale never before imagined.
First there are the data sources – today marks the release of COINS (Combined Online Information System). It is a massive 120GB of data detailing public spending – essentially showing how the government works. Data geeks around the world will begin to work out ways to sort out and organise this data into something that can be used.
There is already a vast database of government data available at data.gov.uk. Other data can be found at the click of a mouse – check out infochimps.org – a searchable list of available data sets from social network usage to betting odds. The Guardian runs a datablog which posts the latest and topical datasets.
It is not just records that are available – public opinion is instantaneous. I work for a company that has pioneered the first smart phone online survey software which already has thousands of users. We are able to get thousands of responses to any news story in literally minutes. Consumer attitude can be monitored and a change immediately exploited.
Secondly – there are the mash ups. Imagine the mash up music of 2 many DJ’s (mixing two or more songs together to create something new and unique) and apply that to data. Applications like Google Doc’s are allowing people to easily combine different data sets. So if you want to combine a Google map with a list of BNP members – voila! Or if you want to mash together the RSS feeds of your favourite websites and filter for things you care about – then a programme like Yahoo Pipes makes that possible.
Finally, the rise of the info-graphic. An info-graphic is a visual representation of information. The recent advent of online social-networking has bred a population of users eager to see how people are using sites like Twitter and Facebook – like this current state of Twitter info-graphic. Info-graphic’s have surged in popularity and are everywhere – from the trustworthiness of beards to the cost of the BBC. Some of my favourite sites that provide a regular stream of quality info-graphics are:
There are websites that are allowing you to create your own visualisations, such as ManyEyes (which includes this brilliant chart of movie genres over time). Tableau has just released a free version of its graph software, Tableau Public (which i’m yet to play with).
So, technology has given us loads of tools to make sense of this increasingly confusing and information overloaded world. The emergence and spread of tablet computers will help our love of data grow as we begin whizzing through info-graphics and interactive programmes using our fingers. It might just be me that is excited about these changes – but i’m fairly confident that a popular appropriation of data will be the next big thing for the inhabitants of our plugged-in society