Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Spain’s Eldiario.es has 18,000 paying members, and its eye on the next several million
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Jan. 31, 2012, 10:30 a.m.

Open-source Weave liberates data for journalists, citizens

The software can help journalists create infinitely interactive visualizations.

Sample Weave visualization

Data nerds from government and academia gathered Friday at Northeastern University to show off the latest version of Weave, an open-source, web-based platform designed to visualize “any available data by anyone for any purpose.” The software has a lot of potential for journalists.

Weave is supported by the Open Indicators Consortium, an unusual partnership of planning agencies and universities who wanted better tools to inform public policy and community decision-making. The groups organized and agreed to share data and code in 2008, well before Gov 2.0 was hot.

Think of Weave as more programming language than app. It powers websites such as the Connecticut Data Collaborative and Rhode Island’s RI DataHUB. The newly relaunched MetroBoston DataCommon, a project of eastern Massachusetts’ regional planning agency, really shows off the software’s power. There, users can upload their own datasets (Weave claims to be able to handle virtually any format) or browse sample visualizations (e.g., Children in Families Below Poverty).

Data is linked, which means you can view the same datapoint from many angles. Drag your cursor across a few dozen cities and towns and watch as those data are simultaneously illuminated on a histogram and a scatter plot. Add another datapoint to find correlations or trim the data to create subsets. The software keeps track of state, which means you would be able to visually undo and redo changes and save that series of steps as an animation. The end result, powered by Flash, is easily embeddable into a web page.

The software reminds me of SPSS, from my college poli sci days. But unlike SPSS, Weave is free (as in beer and in speech), and it’s web-native. Weave’s creators want to liberate data. It’s not that data isn’t already out there. (You can browse thousands of datasets on Data.gov.) It’s that data is not easy to parse and consume. Spreadsheets and PDFs are nothing if you don’t know how to read them, and tools are useless if you can’t afford to buy them.

Georges Grinstein, a professor of computer science at UMass Lowell, develops Weave with a team of some 20 students. He hopes journalists can use the software to build better visualizations.

“The whole purpose of making a newspaper’s visualization highly interactive is you could look at that data and say, ‘Yeah, but‘,” he said. If a reporter presents a conclusion from data, a reader should be able explore more data to challenge that conclusion, he said. Sure, news organizations publish interactive infographics, but they are interactive only insofar as they were designed. With Weave, a single visualization lives in a bigger, more collaborative and connected universe of data.

The Boston Foundation, a major funder of the DataCommon website, will begin offering Weave training for Boston-area journalists in the coming months. Journalists are encouraged to file bug reports and feature requests to help improve the software.

POSTED     Jan. 31, 2012, 10:30 a.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Spain’s Eldiario.es has 18,000 paying members, and its eye on the next several million
“We have a potential of six million readers. You may not convince all six million people to be your socios, but if you learn more about their interests, you can get closer.”
Chasing subscriptions over scale, The Athletic wants to turn local sports fandom into a sustainable business — starting in Chicago
“It’s very easy today to be click-driven and produce articles that don’t have a lot of substance or depth and don’t cost that much to produce, but that dynamic is disappointing for fans who want higher-quality content.”
Hot Pod: We now have new, free rankings to show how podcasts stack up against each other
Plus: Parsing the RadioPublic announcement; premium podcast subscriptions; Bill Simmons oversimplifies things.
What to read next
0
tweets
The American Bystander is trying to revive the humor magazine with a reader-supported business model
“Our idea was that we were going to create one of these things in a classic format and see if there was enough interest to sustain it.”
0Algorithms, clickworkers, and the befuddled fury around Facebook Trends
“Trends are not the same as news, but Facebook kinda wants them to be.”
0With new columns and newsletters, ProPublica is trying to attract new readers and have more fun
“There’s a huge benefit to coming up with features that are more fun and more interesting. It appeals to a different audience and can create closer connections with readers — they can see a different side of us.”
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Fuego is our heat-seeking Twitter bot, tracking the links the future-of-journalism crowd is talking about most on Twitter.
Here are a few of the top links Fuego’s currently watching.   Get the full Fuego ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
PBS NewsHour
Fwix
Publish2
The Sunlight Foundation
Medium
The New Republic
Hechinger Report
Corporation for Public Broadcasting
The Fiscal Times
The Daily Beast
Current TV
The Bay Citizen