science & tech in the public interest

Taking on the data deluge

The U.S. Government's open data initiatives have created all sorts of new data sources. The challenge is to extract useful information from the data deluge. Fortunately, recent advances in data visualization can help. For example...


If you're using a modern browser, you should see two graphics below. The Google Map shows earthquake locations, and the scatter plot shows when they occured. These kinds of visualizations aren't new, and USGS has allowed you to download their earthquake data for years. What's relatively new is that your browser automatically acquired real-time data for the last 7 days when you opened this Web page. That's just the beginning...

Bummer! Your seem to be using an old browser...
This demo requires a browser that supports HTML5 and JavaScript.

You also downloaded some software for analyzing your newly acquired data. Try it. Click with your mouse (or tap with your finger) and drag on the lower plot to create a "filter" (a translucent gray box) for the data displayed on the map. You can then drag the filter along the lower plot to change (dynamically) the data displayed on the map. Once you get the hang of it, you can drill down into the data and geolocate the largest earthquakes, or the smallest, or the most recent, etc. Your browser has become a powerful tool for analytics and visualization, and all you had to do was open the Web page.

Free app

If you have a smart phone, bookmark this link. Better yet, if your browser offers the option, try "Add to home screen". With mobile Safari, this puts a new yellow/orange mobile app on your home screen called "What's shaking?" It acquires the latest data every time you open it.

Spreadsheets beware

This only begins to demonstrate the potential for new kinds of data-driven applications. If you're a pivot table fan, then think about how long it would take you to do the same thing with your favorite spreadsheet program or GIS, if you can do it at all. This isn't a new software product. It's a new approach to data analytics and visualization.