Bolivia 2.0? The role of data, technology and information in Bolivia in 2012

It is by now a cliché to to point out how developing countries most in need of what data journalism provides–a credible, fact-based approach that cuts through the noise of bias to help average citizens become informed participants in the problem-solving processes of improving social-political challenges–is not (quite) manifesting itself where it is most needed. Yeah, that’s a long sentence. But Bolivia is a case in point.

A search for data visualization in Bolivia yields mostly European NGOs posting myriad Tableau and GoogleMap visualizations about the usual statistics on health and economy–laudable efforts in their own right, but not a good representation of the state of information and data visualization in Bolivia proper.

To find what Bolivians are doing, you need lots of time and a high level of tolerance for dead links. But it’s out there. As a recent example, Bolivian@s Globales produced a modern, candid video on the state of Bolivia. It’s a solid blend of information and optimism, and shows us what today’s Bolivians are capable of producing in the digital space.

And–in a country where where the government can be reliably counted upon to discourage openness and transparency–multimedia, even the simple use of video, is critical. Fortunately, there is evidence that digital journalism is growing. The major papers went online years ago, but more importantly, there are now digital journalism sites and signs that Bolivian bloggers are growing, both in quality and in numbers.

Crowdsourcing, mapping and social media in Bolivian elections

Sadly, one of the most encouraging examples of data visualization and social media in Bolivia went dark, but the screenshots and documentation that remain are encouraging. In 2009, Voces Bolivianas and other Bolivians began using data visualization to monitor Bolivian elections (Elecciones 2.0 Bolivia). See how monitoring was crowdsourced through GoogleMaps:

Elecciones 2-0 Bolivia

Coupled with Twitter, a Facebook page and other social media, Elecciones 2.0 Bolivia was groundbreaking for Bolivians. Re-visto, an online investigative journalism site run by Deutche Welle, interviewed Mario Duran (a noted Bolivian blogger) on the groundswell of acceptance and use of social media and digital journalism in the 2009 elections (English translation here). And there was a New York Times write-up of how Bolivians were covering the elections referendum on Twitter.

Other Bolivian data visualization projects of note:

Bolivians’ access to reliable Internet:

Bolivia (as well as other developing nations and rural communities in the U.S.) faces another challenge–reliable internet speeds. A recent Bolivian infographic (in Spanish) describes the problem and the social media citizen lobbying effort (Mas y major internet en Bolivia–Better and more Internet in Bolivia) to address it.

I’ll be honest. As I was researching information for this post, I found myself frustrated with the fact that, after days of searching, I couldn’t easily point to a few examples of cutting edge data visualization pieces. There was a part of me that wanted to say to the world, “see, we’re doing it too, you just haven’t found us.” But I’m walking away from this experience with a much more sober understanding of the challenges that Bolivians face. I’m not a journalist. I no longer live in Bolivia. I don’t have to deal with civil unrest, strikes, sketchy Internet access and the uneasy history that Bolivian governments have bequeathed to journalists and citizens concerned with civil liberties and human rights.

The willingness of Bolivians to put in the sweat equity to learn, exploit and disseminate these technologies is self-evident and encouraging.

The next steps, as I see them? Helping Bolivian journalists continue to embrace data journalism, raising awareness of open source data platforms such as Tableau and Ushahidi, and empowering today’s technology-minded Bolivians to learn how to turn information into power through openness and transparency. I’d be most interested in hearing from you on how this is happening and look forward to writing more about it.

Data visualization as multi-media narrative

I’ve been on a multimedia kick lately, digging for interesting examples of how journalists are telling their stories via this interesting catch-all for pictures, animations and all things that move with words. A multimedia interactive timeline produced back in September, 2010 persists, in my view, as a stellar example. Yes, that was over a year-and-a-half ago, but I challenge you to find anything this good that has come out since.

El Mundo, a Spanish newspaper with a very good data visualization design team, created an interactive data visualization/multi-media narrative recreating the attempts to rescue Chilean miners trapped in the copper-gold mine near Copiapó in August 5, 2010 “Rescate de los mineros chilenos atrapados bajo tierra” (“Rescue of Chilean Miners Trapped Underground”).

Created a month after the successful rescue this piece by David Almeda successfully deconstructs the messy reality of three rescue plans, changing information on the ground, technical obstacles and engineering solutions, as well as the human faces behind the crisis. If I counted correctly, there are about 30 animated frames in this, several of which contain infographics polished enough to be published in their own right. The only thing I’d add to this would be a scrubber with a timeline to allow users to move through this at their own pace and to get a sense of the timing.

This is a solid interactive and a beautifully understated display of process, timelines and information. In our ongoing fascination with data visualization, this reminds me of why I started this blog.

ElMundo_Chilean mining interactive

 

Time travel in Argentina: a new take on interactive timelines

Argentina. Alfajores, Maradona, steak and tango? Yes. A burgeoning data visualization community? Yep. In my occasionally quixotic quest to find out what data viz developers are up to in Latin America, I stumbled across Hacks | Hackers – Buenos Aires.

It seems that they’re drumming up some interesting projects, though nothing concrete to date, though I am looking forward to writing more about their progress. That said, Sandra Crucianelli, a recipient of the noted Knight Foundation fellowship, presented some terrific examples of data visualization projects in Latin America.

One worth mentioning is Proyecto Walsh, an interactive timeline/journalistic experiment which recreates Rodolfo Walsh’s 1956-57 expose on the illegal executions of Peron sympathizers, “Operación Masacre” (Operation Massacre) as an interactive timeline. Well, it’s much more than an interactive timeline but, to me, the timeline is a great hook.

The zoom feature on the interactive timeline, which most of us are more used to seeing in spatial relationships on maps (think: zoom to your house or zoom away to view a city) is used temporally (think: zooming in to a minute; zooming out to a month).

Conceived by journalists Alvaro Liuzzi and Vanina Berghella, this project uses this slick timeline feature as effective navigation through various layers of multimedia, ranging from interactive maps using, of course, Google Maps, to a photo gallery using the Google image search function. It’s fairly complex, and tells the story well. Even if you don’t understand Spanish, it’s worth exploring.

Proyecto Walsh

Proyecto Walsh

Bicycling in tranquility: Madrid map

There’s a certain beauty to be seen, and heard, when you stubbornly translate Spanish into English. By stubborn, I mean not how you *know* a phrase should translate (meaning, you are aware of the original author’s intent and honor it accordingly). But rather, how you *insist* on translating a phrase, mostly because a direct and literal translation of your native tongue somehow feels more loyal, more true, and sounds better, if not as accurate. For those of us who visualize information, this sounds like a familiar dilemma, and one I’ve written about before. To be right, or to be accurate? In this case, to be beautiful, or to be true?

I’ve chosen to translate this simple bicycling map as “Tranquil Streets for Bicycling Through Madrid.” It’s perplexing, but not disconcerting, that the map is designed in black, like a constellation map. Kind of adds to the beauty, in my opinion.

It takes a few minutes for the map to download. Take your time, wait it out, and imagine yourself rolling along, bicycling in tranquility. Enjoy.

Bicycling in tranquility

An interactive visualization for Chile’s Disappeared

On September 11, 1973, General Augusto Pinochet began a 17-year dictatorship in Chile that resulted in thousands of politically-related deaths and hundreds of individuals who mysteriously disappeared with no explanation given by the government. These people are known as Chile’s “disappeared.” An interactive map created by ArchivosChile (loosely translated as ArchivesChile) and developer Gabriel Mérida shows how many of these and other politically-motivated, government-sponsored murders occurred between September and December, 1973, the start of Pinochet’s regime.

People are still searching

It is particularly poignant that this map, essentially a data visualization mash-up of GoogleMaps and data from Chile’s “Servicio Medico Legal” (Medical Legal Services office) has as one of its core navigation items a query box where one may search by a victim’s name. As in, people are still searching. One may also search by city.

It’s relatively intuitive (given it’s objective, it has to be). One of the most compelling features is the “play” option that allows you to simply sit back and watch the dramatic and unfortunate escalation of deaths within these four short months.

The interactive is surprisingly text-based, but does the job. The silhouette icons that point to each victim are a bit clunky and obscure the actual numbers when you arrive at the default zoom view–something that a smaller visual (an “x,” a dot, a square) could have avoided. But once you zoom in by city block, they become a powerful reminder of why you are, indeed, interacting with this map. Clicking on each victim displays a pop-up which helpfully displays the victim’s name, cause of death, source, medical examiner and other data.

Puzzlingly, the legend is displayed as a dropdown, which takes away from the intuitiveness of the map. But overall, it gets the grim job done.

ArchivosChile_screenshot

 

Doing Minard one better? Reinventing Tufte’s favorite information graphic

To many, Edward Tufte is best known for his dogged and unwavering promotion of Charles Joseph Minard’s Napoleon’s March to Moscow graphic as the perfect form of information visualization. That, and those swanky flyers that he sends out through the mail. Until I attended Tufte’s seminar a few years ago, I was ashamed to admit that I had never given that graphic more than a cursory glance. Once I did, however, it took me five or ten minutes to really understand it. And I was kind of turned off by that. So I’ll add my voice to the growing chorus of those that disagree with Tufte. But I’ll be less articulate. I just didn’t understand it, plain and simple. That’s actually one of reasons that I started this blog. Is there such a thing as the perfect visualization of information?

Of course there isn’t. And anyone who insists otherwise merely has a strong opinion.

So, if you accept that, then there’s the issue of, for each piece that we create, where is the sweet spot between accuracy and getting our message across? That’s a messy answer, in my opinion. I always want to be accurate, but if it’s at the expense of losing my audience, or making them work too hard to understand what I’m attempting to convey, it’s on me, the designer/developer, to take a step back and either try a different approach or rethink whether the project is worth doing.

So, imagine my delight when I found the site of Michael Friendly, a professor of statistics and noted author on data visualization at York University, who would like to do Minard one better. He issued a challenge to data visualization developers:

Can we re-draw it in some modern programming language? What does this tell us about comparative power and simplicity of various programming languages and environments?

The visualizations that are featured in Friendly’s site are fascinating attempts to recreate and re-imagine this graphic by today’s developers. Cool stuff. Granted, there’s myriad other examples online of others trying to do the same thing. But Friendly’s site had, to me, a great range of what’s out there. Too bad many of the examples cited are in printed books and hard to access. But digging through the examples is worth it. Imagine, for example, Napoleon’s march through a 3D cube which visualizes time and distance through various layers. Or as a trippy, post-apocalypic romp through physical space? My favorite is this Flash re-creation of the whole shebang, from the perspective of… everything. This is what people mean when they say “bells and whistles.” I chuckle to think what the very intense Edward Tufte’s assessment would be. Props to Menno-Jan Kraak for a terrific website cataloging all of these examples.

And, if you are really, really, really into the Minard graphic, go here for more, ranging from atlases to games.

Oh, and there’s even a piechart. But I’ll let you find that one yourself. Here’s the fancy original image from Wikipedia.

Minard

 

 

Zombies, HTML5 and Google Maps

Hmmm. File under… data visualization? Tag as zombies, survival, humor?

The Map of the Dead – Zombie Survival Map was built with HTML5′s geolocation functionality, the Google Places API, and Google Maps’ stylized maps feature. Designed by Doejo, It’s simple and, though it could have used a more robust feature-set (those little place icons could tell a good story), it nonetheless has a clean, simple interface and three toggling map views (map, danger zone and no danger zone).

Map of the Dead - Zombie Survival Map

Writing from the sea: Mapping wikipedia

When I first saw the Mapping Wikipedia project by TraceMedia (via FastCompany) I asked myself, “How are they writing from the sea?” I must have asked out loud because my partner responded, “Maybe they are in boats.” Maybe.

In all seriousness, this is an incredibly beautiful visualization that highlights Wikipedia activity across the world, filtered through seven languages and all countries, under the context of the Middle East and North Africa (it was designed as part of a project which studies those regions, so you’ll see right away that the language filters all relate to this geography–e.g., French and no Spanish).

I have to admit that I spent an inordinately long amount of time trying to recreate all the authors in boats scenario that I saw in the Fast Company screenshot (below). I couldn’t, but I had fun trying. All joking aside, the apparent simplicity bely the richness of the data underneath–this project was built using OpenLayers and GoogleMaps and is yet another example of the capabilities of HTML5. And FastCompany does a nice job of hinting at the myriad possibilities that something like this could open up. Take some time to select a few troubled spots in the world and you’ll see what I mean.

Wikipedia in Europe