Crowdsourced usage help and observations for data visualizations

This is my pitch for the Media Ideation Fellowship.

Project Description

This project would provide a platform for user-contributed usage instructions (“move the slider to the right to see the data for different years” or observations (“wow, DC has so many charter schools”) for web and print-based data visualizations. The project would help make data visualizations and their insights more accessible and provide a body of feedback for developers and journalists to create more usable visualizations. Through a public API for web applications and QR codes and short URLs for print, journalists and developers can integrate the platform into their visualizations.

What problem or issue are you trying to address with this project?

We live in a culture which increasingly fetishizes policy decisions that are “data-driven”.  From the future of publicly-funded education in Chicago to the disconnection of residents from city infrastructure in Detroit, data fills a prominent role in the discourse around issues that profoundly impact our lives. Certainly, data has always driven decision-making by policy makers and evaluation of proposals by the public, and it’s an important part of civic process. The danger is for data to take on a magical quality instead of being framed as a tool that can be used, and abused, in the service of civic problem solving. If publics are to leverage data, we must be empowered consumers of this information.


While researching information about the Chicago teachers strike, I came upon this data visualization about the growth in charter schools, I came upon this visualization:

While a careful reading of the instructions could have told me that this was a map of the US and that moving the slider shows the change in the number of charter schools over time, I just wanted to dive in and was confused. Having more human instructions that say “Hey, this is a map of the US” or “move the slider” and observations like “look how charter schools grew in D.C.  That documentary Waiting for Superman talked a lot about that” seemed like something that should exist.

Visualizing Defiance, Ohio Shows

I won a free O’Reilly ebook from a hackathon I participated in a while ago.  I chose Visualizing Data and I’ve been working through the book.  I always find that its more helpful to work on a project of my own that approximates the examples in a technical book instead of just reading or copying and pasting the example code.  It forces me to learn new things, gets me more excited about the project and makes me re-read portions of the book in detail.

For a useful time series, I chose one that was close to my life, the list of past Defiance, Ohio shows.  It was also useful because I was trying to set expectations for a new job and wanted to let them know how much time I had spent away from home in the past.  The original version of this list was pretty messy, so I had to clean it up a lot with Google Refine before visualizing it using processing.

<br /> No Java 2 SDK, Standard Edition v 1.4.1 support for APPLET!!<br />

Most striking, you can see how our activity has become more sparse in the last few years. If you’re interested in the code, you can download the processing code.

Bloomington Linux Users Group @ Monroe County Public Library Room 1B. 7p.

Join BLUG for a magical evening of Linux goodness.  Tuesday’s
presentation will be by Scott Blaydes on Virtualization on the Linux
Desktop.  We will take a look at some of the options to help users
replace Microsoft Windows on their desktop.

After the short presentation we will have an open discussion for
everyone to talk about what is going on in the Linux world and to get
advice on problems.
*NOTE: I will not be discussing Xen.  Xen deserves a whole presentation        for itself…and I haven’t had the time to get it working on my laptop.