Strata Week: Infographics for all

A new infographic tool, San Francisco upgrades its open data efforts, and decades of Stephen Wolfram's data.

Here are some of the data stories that caught my attention this week.

More infographics incoming, thanks to Visual.ly Create

The visualization site Visual.ly launched a new tool this week that helps users create their own infographics. Aptly called Visual.ly Create, the new feature lets people take publicly available datasets (such as information from a Twitter hashtag), select a template, and publish their own infographics.

Visual.ly infographic of the #strataconf tag
Segment from a Visual.ly Create infographic of the #stratconf hashtag.

As GigaOm’s Derrick Harris observes, it’s fairly easy to spot the limitations with this service — in the data you can use, in the templates that are available, and in the visualizations that are created. But after talking to Visual.ly’s co-founder and Chief Content Officer Lee Sherman about some “serious customization options” that are in the works, Harris wonders if a tool like this could be something to spawn interest in data science:

“The problem is that we need more people with math skills to meet growing employer demand for data scientists and data analysts. But how do you get started caring about data in the first place when the barriers are so high? Really working with data requires a deep understanding of both math and statistics, and Excel isn’t exactly a barrel of monkeys (nor are the charts it creates).”

Could Visual.ly be an on-ramp for more folks to start caring about and playing with data?

San Francisco upgrades its open data initiative

Late last week, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee unveiled the new data.SFgov.org, a cloud-based open data website that will replace DataSF.org, one of the earliest examples of civic open data initiatives.

San Francisco Data banner

“By making City data more accessible to the public secures San Francisco’s future as the world’s first 2.0 City,” said Lee in an announcement. “It’s only natural that we move our Open Data platform to the cloud and adopt modern open interface to facilitate that flow and access to information and develop better tools to enhance City services.”

The city’s Chief Innovation Officer Jay Nath told TechCrunch that the update to the website expands access to information while saving the city money.

The new site contains some 175 datasets, including map-based crime data, active business listings, and various financial datasets. It’s powered by the Seattle-based data startup Socrata.

The personal analytics of Stephen Wolfram

“One day I’m sure everyone will routinely collect all sorts of data about themselves,” writes Mathematica and Wolfram Alpha creator Stephen Wolfram. “But because I’ve been interested in data for a very long time, I started doing this long ago. I actually assumed lots of other people were doing it too, but apparently they were not. And so now I have what is probably one of the world’s largest collections of personal data.”

And what a fascinating collection of data it is, including emails received and sent, phone calls made, calendar events planned, keystrokes made, and steps taken. Through this, you can see Wolfram’s sleep, social, and work patterns, and even how various chapters of his book and Mathematica projects took shape.

“The overall pattern is fairly clear,” Wolfram writes. “It’s meetings and collaborative work during the day, a dinnertime break, more meetings and collaborative work, and then in the later evening more work on my own. I have to say that looking at all this data, I am struck by how shockingly regular many aspects of it are. But in general, I am happy to see it. For my consistent experience has been that the more routine I can make the basic practical aspects of my life, the more I am able to be energetic — and spontaneous — about intellectual and other things.”

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  • Anonymous

    I’m curious how news organizations like O’Reilly discover sites like San Francisco’s. Does San Francisco simply have a better PR operation? It’s just a bit strange that places like San Francisco are considered leaders in open government when there are hundreds of local governments in the United States that do the exact same thing, including local jurisdiction sites that exceed San Francisco’s in breadth and functional capability.

    All of these articles about innovators in government seems to be more an exercise in who can do a better job in getting the attention of the media rather than any actual innovation.

  • Gwen Jenkins

    @Anonymous: Now you got it. San Francisco “announced” (via press release) and media in need of filler passed along the announcement. San Francisco also helpfully provided a nice visual (the “San Francisco Data” logo) to decorate the story and suggests that they’re leaders in the field. San Francisco has better name-recognition than Harris City, OH, so stories about it attract more readers. And O’Reilly is promoting a conference in San Francisco (see ad on the page), so they’re looking to catch the eye of any Frisco-philes who might be reading.