Tag Archives: data visualization

Data Journalism: A Showcase of Viz Projects in India

Building on the excitement around data journalism at our previous hackathon, Hacks/Hackers New Delhi recently paired up with the Hindustan Times — one of India’s leading English newspapers — to host a showcase of innovative data journalism work going on in the country.

The goal was to share best practices when it comes to using data to source, tell and visualize stories.
Avinash Celestine of The Economic Times
Avinash Celestine of the Economic Times started off by explaining how he’s using open data – particularly Indian government census data – to answer big questions about socioeconomic trends on his Datastories blog.  He stressed the importance of putting data in context, giving the example of how he recently tried to understand women’s declining participation in the labor force by contrasting it with data about increased studying and housework.
Cordelia Jenkins of Mint
Cordelia Jenkins of Mint newspaper explained Trading Up: Slum Economics, the data journalism project that recently won the GEN Editor’s Lab hackathon in New Delhi.  The team’s goal is to create an app that visualizes and displays detailed household and economic data for slums.  Users can compare different slums side-by-side, graph the parameters they choose, and ideally – for journalists – pick out story ideas.  The project is at the concept stage, and will take another three months to become operational.
Ravi Bajpai of Down to Earth
Ravi Bajpai of Down to Earth talked about how he produces data visualizations in a hurry – in a day or less – for the organization’s blog.  He parses survey results, pulls out relevant data, and creates interactive infographic-driven posts that draw a lot of users, get good traction on social media, and keep users on page for longer.

Neeta Verma, who works with the government’s National Informatics Centre, presented data.gov.in, a new open data site from the Indian government.  The site features several tools, including inbuilt visualizations that users can embed on outside blogs and pages, the opportunity to request and vote for more data sets, and a developers community.  The site is free, but has lagged in adoption as NIC works to get more data onsite.
Guneet Narula of Datameet
Guneet Narula, of the data science collective DataMeet, presented some of the work that their members have done.  Their projects include the Geohackers blog and the India Water Portal. Most of their members, he said, come from a coding and tech background, and would like to work more with journalists.

Between them, the presenters mentioned several freely available tools for quickly packaging/presenting data, including the D3 viz library, Tableau Public, Datawrapper, Leaflet, and MapBox.

Overall, an informative set of presentations that explored some of the creative data-driven work going on in India today. About 50 people came to Sunday’s event at the HT House, and several more followed along on Twitter. For more info about Hacks/Hackers New Delhi or to join, check out the meetup page.

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Hacks/Hackers Austin: Tableau Public

On April 1, Hacks/Hackers ATX (in conjunction with ONA Austin) hosted Ben Jones and Jewell Loree of Tableau Public. The pair went through the comprehensive offering that Tableau provides for data visualization.

The meeting opened with a presentation from Harsh Patel of MakerSquare, a new organization providing Web development training in the Austin area.

Many thanks to Christian McDonald for arranging this event with refreshments sponsored by Tableau Public. And we are always grateful for the usage of space at The Austin American-Statesman.


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Hacks meet Hackers in packed Ottawa pub

Hacks/Hackers Ottawa logoWalking and biking to work is most popular in Nunavut. Canada’s federal Conservative Party raises more funds through personal donations than the rival Liberal Party does overall. And in Ottawa, you’re most likely to get a parking ticket on Lynda Lane, not far from the Ottawa Hospital.

Each of these tidbits, a story in their own right, and many more tales buried, sometimes deeply, in publicly available data were revealed the inaugural Hacks/Hackers Ottawa event on May 12.

In an overcrowded pub basement, the beer was pouring as freely as ideas about the future of storytelling in a data-driven world. The house draught list had two speakers: Glen McGregor of the Ottawa Citizen and Alice Funke of punditsguide.ca.

While he was humble about his own work in the field, Glen set the crowd — half hacks, half hackers — at level footing. He provided an introduction to tech-assisted journalism, explained how journalists shouldn’t depend on governments to provide important data, and spoke about how every column in a spreadsheet could lead to a story.

Alice, a hero on Parliament Hill in all political corners thanks to her electoral data crunching, happily managed to out-geek Glen. She showcased how she reverse-engineered inaccessible public elections data into gigabytes of relational databases. The hackers were wowed by her smug SQL, while visions of headlines danced in hacks’ heads. If every column is a story, her work could be a multi-volume epic.

Between presentations, one  of Ottawa’s leading hackers offered beer to any hack/hacker pair who came forward with one collaborative idea. That beer, perhaps unsurprisingly, was soon claimed. Journalists from across the country joined local developer groups, data visualizers, political parties, public servants — and one accordion guy — to launch Ottawa’s chapter.

The event couldn’t have happened without the support of the Ottawa Citizen, OpenFile Ottawa and Open Data Ottawa. The next meet-up will be sometime in July, and we hope to see you there. Join the Hacks/Hackers Ottawa meetup group to be notified.

Nick Taylor-Vaisey and Alex Lougheed are a Hack and Hacker, respectively, who helped get Hacks and Hackers Ottawa off the ground. They can be reached through the group’s meetup page at hackshackers.com/chapter/ottawa.

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Hacks/Hackers NYC: Wikileaks – Data Science & Data Journalism

When WikiLeaks released the Afghanistan and Iraq war logs, news organizations and the public alike sprang into action to understand the documents.

The New York Times was instrumental in analyzing and reporting the story in articles, photographs, maps and graphic information.

Meanwhile, several local hackers worked on their own data visualizations and were featured soon after on Wired, NPR and the New York Times.

RSVP now to join Hacks/Hackers NYC on March 9 at New Work City to learn how the analyses were done, the importance of independent validation checks on data, and see further examples of their work.


  • Drew Conway, PhD student, Dept. of Politics – NYU
  • Mike Dewar, Post-doc, Applied Mathematics – Columbia University
  • John Myles White, PhD student, Dept. of Psychology – Princeton University 
  • Jacob Harris, senior software architect, The New York Times

Registration for the event is $10, payable in advance. If the cost of registration is beyond your budget, email nyc [at] hackshackers [dot] com to volunteer.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Presentations begin at 7 p.m.

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MIT project looking for WordPress users to beta test data visualization tools

An MIT research project is looking for beta testers for its  Knight News Challenge proposal for a WordPress data visualization plugin. Sign up on their blog.

As Professor David Karger writes, his team has created a WordPress plugin called Datapress that lets folks  WYSIWYG author interactive visualizations of any data without any programming.  Using the tool, users can drop maps, timelines, tables, charts, lists, thumbnail grids, and graphs into your article the same way images drop in an image.   You can include widgets that let your readers sort and filter the data by the criteria you specify.  The data you’re presenting can be in a file uploaded to your blog or can live in a Google spreadsheet or a wiki where that can be maintained over time—your article will automatically incorporate your changes.     All these pieces are incorporated in the standard WordPress blog-post editor.

Datapress uses the Exhibit framework, which has been used to create several hundred interesting data visualizations on the web, including some by the San Fransisco Chronicle, the Star Tribune, and the St. Petersburg Times.  But Datapress is intended to make it even easier to author these views and incorporate them in blogs.  A couple of brave bloggers at Factory Portland and Quantnet have already used it successfully for music and finance.

You can see examples on the demo site, watch a tutorial on the Datapress blog, or just download the plugin from the WordPress plugins site. And sign up.

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NYC Data Visualization Extravaganza

The New York City chapter of Hacks / Hackers met on Nov. 9th for a jam packed information session on information and data visualization. The four presenters covered the gamut of information visualization, from online data-viz products, to just launched prototypes, to critical analyses of how graphics are being used in the media.

The four speakers for the evening included Marc Rueter from Tableau Software, Matthew Ericson from the New York Times, Alex Lundry from TargetPoint Consulting, and Santiago Ortiz from Bestiario.

Marc kicked off the presentations by talking about Tableau’s mission to democratize data publishing and visualization online using Tableau Public, their online tool. He demoed the tool showing how easily data could be imported and dragged and dropped to create different views (he chose a dataset on bird strikes to airplanes in honor of his trip to New York). A lot of journalists are turning to Tableau Public to support their data-based reporting and it’s easy to see why: the tool is slick, it’s point and click, and the results are embeddable and look great online. Here are some examples using it.

Matt Ericson, the Deputy Graphics Director at the New York Times, then took the stage to talk about how the NYT designed their election graphics for the just completed election season. There are a lot of challenges to doing real-time data driven graphics for election night, among them is thinking about the visual design for dynamic results and providing insight into undecided races as new information is released. Among the visuals that Matt talked about was a new tool they developed expressly for helping people compare results from past elections, which really gives a sense of how voting patterns have changed (see below).

All of the NYT election graphics are still online here. The platform is implemented with data from the AP, an in-house flash library for the mapping, Ruby on Rails to bake pages to .html (for faster loading) and everything is hosted on EC2 for mass scalability.

To contrast the objective and news-y graphics of the New York Times, Alex Lundry then took the floor to present his ideas on the inherent subjectivity and manipulability of information graphics. He showed some fantastic examples of data visualization being used as a tool of political persuasion (and yes, people with information graphic laden picket signs). Below is the masterpiece which sparked a partisan visualization volley Alex calls Chart Wars. Alex gave a powerful and dynamic talk, waking the crowd up to how shapes, color, and iconography can be used to bias graphics, and how point-of-view journalism is invading the ostensible objective realm of data visualization.

The presentations were closed out by Santiago Ortiz who demoed a practically brand-spanking-new visualization environment called impure. In contrast to the non-programmer approach to visualization taken by Tableau, Impure is oriented more toward the gear-heads. For anyone who’s done music programming with Max MSP, it’s that, but for data visualization. It has a powerful data flow model (which might be recognizable to someone who’s used Yahoo Pipes) which lets programmers connect data sources to filters, tables, and interactive visualizations.

Sign-up for the beta release at impure.com.

The program for the night was co-organized by Hacks / Hackers’ @hoenikker and the NYViz Groups’ @jpmarcum and was sponsored by Tableau Software and Dogpatch Labs. For those who missed it the video of the event can still be found online via Livestream.

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Introducing Hacks/Hackers Los Angeles

We’re proud to announce the addition of a Los Angeles branch to the ever-growing Hacks/Hackers nationwide network.

Thursday, July 8, more than a dozen members of the Los Angeles journogeek scene joined up for the first introductory Hacks/Hackers LA meetup at Redwood Bar and Grill, conveniently located across the street from the LA Times.

Our first meetup was a mingling event for our community members to get to know each other and for us, the organizers, to get a feel for the kinds of ideas and interests floating around the Los Angeles community.

What we talked about

Most of the conversations throughout the night were in small, circulating circles. A few recurring topics:

Data visualization: What works, what’s possible, what has fallen flat in the past.

Multimedia strategies: One man-band strategy vs. the in-house multimedia inspection team.

Journalism education: Yes, it’s a topic that has been discussed over and over again in journogeek circles, but for a good reason: we all agree that it still needs work. A few memorable notes from discussions about journalism education:

  • Many students still care too much about the “grade” rather than the value of the experience they gain. This isn’t the fault of the students, but of the general mindset and educational structure upheld by traditional institutions
  • How valuable are entrepreneurial journalism classes/programs? Can you truly teach entrepreneurialism in a classroom setting?

And, just for fun: Hidden food gems in the Southland: Korean clambakes and SF/SD-worthy burritos

What the Twitterverse said

Now that we’ve all had the chance to meet and talk, future meetups will be more structured and thematic with speakers, panels, presentations — you name it. We’re open to ideas from everyone.

Keep an eye on this blog for and our freshly-created Facebook page for updates on the place and theme of the next meetup.

Michelle Minkoff, Eric Zassenhaus and Lauren Rabaino are co-organizers of Hacks/Hackers LA.

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The art of data visualization: Stamen Design event wrapup

Eric Rodenbeck, Stamen Design

The art of making sense of data — and it is truly an art — is a key element in building the future of journalism. Interactive presentations created from data can be personalized by the reader, giving a more engaging news experience. Data-based applications can also lead to new business models, through paid or subscription-based applications that give extra value to readers by providing a new dimension on news coverage.

One of the leaders in data visualization is Stamen Design, which has worked with news organizations and museums alike to help make sense of the world through its unique views of data.

Speaking to a Hacks/Hackers event this week at the Gray Area Foundation For The Arts, Stamen founder Eric Rodenbeck discussed some of his firm’s work and philosiphy.

Some highlights from the presentation:

Create maps as tools for exploration

Stamen doesn’t have any preconceptions for what they want their visualizations to show. They aim to create interfaces that allow users to come to their own conclusions about what they see. Part of this is insuring that the data they use is as complete and accurate as possible. They also don’t try to clean up outliers in their data that might appear to be unexpected noise cluttering up a visualization.

Issues of data access

When Stamen was about to release their visualization of crime data in Oakland, the city shut off access to the data pipe. Access to open data is obviously essential for these applications. This is one area where journalists and developers can work together. With their experience finding sources and doing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, reporters can help obtain the right information in the right format so that designers and developers can build a complete visualization. That takes an understanding on both sides of what’s available and what format is required.

The best data come from human actions

Data that come from actual human activity is best starting point for creating visualizations. This means information based on how people behave in the real world, not doing something like filling out surveys.

Data that come from actual human activity is best starting point for creating visualizations

Current tools are complicated and expensive

There are some easy-to-use tools for doing this work, such as Google Maps. But when you want to go beyond just sticking red pins on a map, it can get complicated very quickly. Stamen’s projects require complex and expensive tools that aren’t easily usable by non-techies. Perhaps this will change and there are some people working in this space, such as IBM’s Many Eyes project.

Print-on-demand as a way to bridge the digital divide

Print media through small on-demand runs could be a way to bridge the digital divide and bring some of the information gleaned from data analysis to a wider audience. There have recently been some efforts to use downtime on big presses for short runs.

Want to hear more? The video of the event is embedded below, and here are some photos.

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