Tag Archives: datastore

Data Journalists Engaging in Co-Innovation…

You may or may not have noticed that the Boundary Commission released their take on proposed parliamentary constituency boundaries today.

They could have released the data – as data – in the form of shape files that can be rendered at the click of a button in things like Google Maps… but they didn’t… [The one thing the Boundary Commission quango forgot to produce: a map] (There are issues with publishing the actual shapefiles, of course. For one thing, the boundaries may yet change – and if the original shapefiles are left hanging around, people may start to draw on these now incorrect sources of data once the boundaries are fixed. But that’s a minor issue…)

Instead, you have to download a series of hefty PDFs, one per region, to get a flavour of the boundary changes. Drawing a direct comparison with the current boundaries is not possible.

The make-up of the actual constituencies appears to based on their member wards, data which is provided in a series of spreadsheets, one per region, each containing several sheets describing the ward makeup of each new constituency for the counties in the corresponding region.

It didn’t take long for the data junkies to get on the case though. From my perspective, the first map I saw was on the Guardian Datastore, reusing work by University of Sheffield academic Alasdair Rae, apparently created using Google Fusion Tables (though I haven’t see a recipe published anywhere? Or a link to the KML file that I saw Guardian Datablog editor Simon Rogers/@smfrogers tweet about?)

[I knew I should have grabbed a screen shot of the original map…:-(]

It appears that Conrad Quilty-Harper (@coneee) over at the Telegraph then got on the case, and came up with a comparative map drawing on Rae’s work as published on the Datablog, showing the current boundaries compared to the proposed changes, and which ties the maps together so the zoom level and focus are matched across the maps (MPs’ constituencies: boundary changes mapped):

Telegraph side by side map comparison

Interestingly, I was alerted to this map by Simon tweeting that he liked the Telegraph map so much, they’d reused the idea (and maybe even the code?) on the Guardian site. Here’s a snapshot of the conversation between these two data journalists over the course of the day (reverse chronological order):

Datajournalists in co-operative bootstrapping mode

Here’s the handshake…

Collaborative co-evolution

I absolutely love this… and what’s more, it happened over the course of four or five hours, with a couple of technology/knowledge transfers along the way, as well as evolution in the way both news agencies communicated the information compared to the way the Boundary Commission released it. (If I was evil, I’d try to FOI the Boundary Commission to see how much time, effort and expense went into their communication effort around the proposed changes, and would then try to guesstimate how much the Guardian and Telegraph teams put into it as a comparison…)

At the time of writing (15.30), the BBC have no data driven take on this story…

And out of interest, I also wondered whether Sheffield U had a take…

Sheffiled u media site

Maybe not…

PS By the by, the DataDrivenJournalism.net website relaunched today. I’m honoured to be on the editorial board, along with @paulbradshaw @nicolaskb @mirkolorenz @smfrogers and @stiles, and looking forward to seeing how we can start to drive interest, engagement and skills development in, as well as analysis and (re)use of, and commentary on, public open data through the data journalism route…

PPS if you’re into data journalism, you may also be interested in GetTheData.org, a question and answer site in the model of Stack Overflow, with an emphasis on Q&A around how to find, access, and make use of open and public datasets.

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Using Google Spreadsheets as a Database Source for R

I couldn’t contain myself (other more pressing things to do, but…), so I just took a quick time out and a coffee to put together a quick and dirty R function that will let me run queries over Google spreadsheet data sources and essentially treat them as database tables (e.g. Using Google Spreadsheets as a Database with the Google Visualisation API Query Language).

Here’s the function:

library(RCurl)
gsqAPI = function(key,query,gid=0){ return( read.csv( paste( sep="",'http://spreadsheets.google.com/tq?', 'tqx=out:csv','&tq=', curlEscape(query), '&key=', key, '&gid=', gid) ) ) }

It requires the spreadsheet key value and a query; you can optionally provide a sheet number within the spreadsheet if the sheet you want to query is not the first one.

We can call the function as follows:

gsqAPI('tPfI0kerLllVLcQw7-P1FcQ','select * limit 3')

In that example, and by default, we run the query against the first sheet in the spreadsheet.

Alternatively, we can make a call like this, and run a query against sheet 3, for example:
tmpData=gsqAPI('0AmbQbL4Lrd61dDBfNEFqX1BGVDk0Mm1MNXFRUnBLNXc','select A,C where <= 10',3)
tmpData

My first R function

The real question is, of course, could it be useful.. (or even OUseful?!)?

Here’s another example: a way of querying the Guardian Datastore list of spreadsheets:

gsqAPI('0AonYZs4MzlZbdFdJWGRKYnhvWlB4S25OVmZhN0Y3WHc','select * where A contains "crime" and B contains "href" order by C desc limit 10')

What that call does is run a query against the Guardian Datastore spreadsheet that lists all the other Guardian Datastore spreadsheets, and pulls out references to spreadsheets relating to “crime”.

The returned data is a bit messy and requires parsing to be properly useful.. but I haven’t started looking at string manipulation in R yet…(So my question is: given a dataframe with a column containing things like <a href=”http://example.com/whatever”>Some Page</a>, how would I extract columns containing http://example.com/whatever or Some Page fields?)

[UPDATE: as well as indexing a sheet by sheet number, you can index it by sheet name, but you’ll probably need to tweak the function to look end with '&gid=', curlEscape(gid) so that things like spaces in the sheet name get handled properly I’m not sure about this now.. calling sheet by name works when accessing the “normal” Google spreadsheets application, but I’m not sure it does for the chart query language call??? ]

[If you haven’t yet discovered R, it’s an environment that was developed for doing stats… I use the RStudio environment to play with it. The more I use it (and I’ve only just started exploring what it can do), the more I think it provides a very powerful environment for working with data in quite a tangible way, not least for reshaping it and visualising it, let alone doing stats with in. (In fact, don’t use the stats bit if you don’t want to; it provides more than enough data mechanic tools to be going on with;-)]

PS By the by, I’m syndicating my Rstats tagged posts through the R-Bloggers site. If you’re at all interested in seeing what’s possible with R, I recommend you subscribe to R-Bloggers, or at least have a quick skim through some of the posts on there…

PPS The RSpatialTips post Accessing Google Spreadsheets from R has a couple of really handy tips for tidying up data pulled in from Google Spreadsheets; assuming the spreadsheetdata has been loaded into ssdata: a) tidy up column names using colnames(ssdata) <- c("my.Col.Name1","my.Col.Name2",...,"my.Col.NameN"); b) If a column returns numbers as non-numeric data (eg as a string "1,000") in cols 3 to 5, convert it to a numeric using something like: for (i in 3:5) ssdata[,i] <- as.numeric(gsub(",","",ssdata[,i])) [The last column can be identifed as ncol(ssdata) You can do a more aggessive conversion to numbers (assuming no decimal points) using gsub("[^0-9]“,”",ssdata[,i])]

PPPS via Revolutions blog, how to read the https file into R (unchecked):

require(RCurl)
myCsv = getURL(httpsCSVurl)
read.csv(textConnection(myCsv))

A First Quick Viz of UK University Fees

Regular readers will know how I do quite like to dabble with visual analysis, so here are a couple of doodles with some of the university fees data that is starting to appear.

The data set I’m using is a partial one, taken from the Guardian Datastore: Tuition fees 2012: what are the universities charging?. (If you know where there’s a full list of UK course fees data by HEI and course, please let me know in a comment below, or even better, via an answer to this Where’s the fees data? question on GetTheData.)

My first thought was to go for a proportional symbol map. (Does anyone know of a javascript library that can generate proportional symbol overlays on a Google Map or similar, even better if it can trivially pull in data from a Google spreadsheet via the Google visualisation? I have an old hack (supermarket catchment areas), but there must be something nicer to use by now, surely? [UPDATE: ah – forgot this: Polymaps])

In the end, I took the easy way out, and opted for Geocommons. I downloaded the data from the Guardian datastore, and tidied it up a little in Google Refine, removing non-numerical entries (including ranges, such 4,500-6,000) in the Fees column and replacing them with minumum fee values. Sorting the fees column as a numerical type with errors at the top made the columns that needed tweaking easy to find:

The Guardian data included an address column, which I thought Geocommons should be able to cope with. It didn’t seem to work out for me though (I’m sure I checked the UK territory, but only seemed to get US geocodings?) so in the end I used a trick posted to the OnlineJournalism blog to geocode the addresses (Getting full addresses for data from an FOI response (using APIs); rather than use the value.parseJson().results[0].formatted_address construct, I generated a couple of columns from the JSON results column using value.parseJson().results[0].geometry.location.lng and value.parseJson().results[0].geometry.location.lat).

Uploading the data to Geocommons and clicking where prompted, it was quite easy to generate this map of the fees to date:

Anyone know if there’s a way of choosing the order of fields in the pop-up info box? And maybe even a way of selecting which ones to display? Or do I have to generate a custom dataset and then create a map over that?

What I had hoped to be able to do was use coloured proportional symbols to generate a two dimensional data plot, e.g. comparing fees with drop out rates, but Geocommons doesn’t seem to support that (yet?). It would also be nice to have an interactive map where the user could select which numerical value(s) are displayed, but again, I missed that option if it’s there…

The second thing I thought I’d try would be an interactive scatterplot on Many Eyes. Here’s one view that I thought might identify what sort of return on value you might get for you course fee…;-)

Click thru’ to have a play with the chart yourself;-)

PS I can;t not say this, really – you’ve let me down again, @datastore folks…. where’s a university ID column using some sort of standard identifier for each university? I know you have them, because they’re in the Rosetta sheet… although that is lacking a HESA INST-ID column, which might be handy in certain situations… 😉 [UPDATE – apparently, HESA codes are in the spreadsheet…. ;-0]

PPS Hmm… that Rosetta sheet got me thinking – what identifier scheme does the JISC MU API use?

PPPS If you’re looking for a degree, why not give the Course Detective search engine a go? It searches over as many of the UK university online prospectus web pages that we could find and offer up as a sacrifice to a Google Custom search engine 😉

Government Spending Data Explorer

So… the UK Gov started publishing spending data for at least those transactions over £25,0000. Lots and lots of data. So what? My take on it was to find a quick and dirty way to cobble a query interface around the data, so here’s what I spent an hour or so doing in the early hours of last night, and a couple of hours this morning… tinkering with a Gov spending data spreadsheet explorer:

Guardian/gov datastore explorer

The app is a minor reworking of my Guardian datastore explorer, which put some of query front end onto the Guardian Datastore’s Google spreadsheets. Once again, I’m exploiting the work of Simon Rogers and co. at the Guardian Datablog, a reusing the departmental spreadsheets they posted last night. I bookmarked the spreadsheets to delicious (here) and use these feed to populate a spreadsheet selector:

Guardian datastore selector - gov spending data

When you select a spreadsheet, you can preview the column headings:

Datastore explorer - preview

Now you can write queries on that spreadsheet as if it was a database. So for example, here are Department for Education spends over a hundred million:

Education spend - over 100 million

The query is built up in part by selecting items from lists of options – though you can also enter values directly into the appropriate text boxes:

Datstrore explorer - build a query

You can bookmark and share queries in the datastore explorer (for example, Education spend over 100 million), and also get URLs that point directly to CSV and HTML versions of the data via Google Spreadsheets.

Several other example queries are given at the bottom of the data explorer page.

For certain queries (e.g. two column ones with a label column and an amount column), you can generate charts – such as Education spends over 250 million:

Education spend - over 250 million

Here’s how we construct the query:

Education - query spend over 250 million

If you do use this app, and find some interesting queries, please bookmark them and tag them with wdmmg-gde10, or post a link in a comment below, along with a description of what the query is and why its interesting. I’ll try to add interesting examples to the app’s list of example queries.

Notes: the datastore explorer is an example of a single web page application, though it draws on several other external services – delicious for the list of spreadsheets, Google spreadsheets for the database and query engine, Google charts for the charts and styled tabular display. The code is really horrible (it evolved as a series of bug fixes on bug fixes;-), but if anyone would like to run with the idea, start coding afresh maybe, and perhaps make a production version of the app, I have a few ideas I could share;-)

Guardian Datastore MPs’ Expenses Spreadsheet as a Database

Continuing my exploration of what is and isn’t acceptable around the edges of doing stuff with other people’s data(?!), the Guardian datastore have just published a Google spreadsheet containing partial details of MPs’ expenses data over the period July-Decoember 2009 (MPs’ expenses: every claim from July to December 2009):

thanks to the work of Guardian developer Daniel Vydra and his team, we’ve managed to scrape the entire lot out of the Commons website for you as a downloadable spreadsheet. You cannot get this anywhere else.

In sharing the data, the Guardian folks have opted to share the spreadsheet via a link that includes an authorisation token. Which means that if you try to view the spreadsheet just using the spreadsheet key, you won’t be allowed to see it; (you also need to be logged in to a Google account to view the data, both as a spreadsheet, and in order to interrogate it via the visualisation API). Which is to say, the Guardian datastore folks are taking what steps they can to make the data public, whilst retaining some control over it (because they have invested resource in collecting the data in the form they’re re-presenting it, and reasonably want to make a return from it…)

But in sharing the link that includes the token on a public website, we can see the key – and hence use it to access the data in the spreadsheet, and do more with it… which may be seen as providing a volume add service over the data, or unreasonably freeloading off the back of the Guardian’s data scraping efforts…

So, just pasting the spreadsheet key and authorisation token into the cut down Guardian datastore explorer script I used in Using CSV Docs As a Database to generate an explorer for the expenses data.

So for example, we can run for example run a report to group expenses by category and MP:

MP expesnes explorer

Or how about claims over 5000 pounds (also viewing the information as an HTML table, for example).

Remember, on the datastore explorer page, you can click on column headings to order the data according to that column.

Here’s another example – selecting A,sum(E), where E>0 group by A and order is by sum(E) then asc and viewing as a column chart:

Datastore exploration

We can also (now!) limit the number of results returned, e.g. to show the 10 MPs with lowest claims to date (the datastore blog post explains that why the data is incomplete and to be treated warily).

Limiting results in datstore explorer

Changing the asc order to desc in the above query gives possibly a more interesting result, the MPs who have the largest claims to date (presumably because they have got round to filing their claims!;-)

Datastore exploring

Okay – enough for now; the reason I’m posting this is in part to ask the question: is the this an unfair use of the Guardian datastore data, does it detract from the work they put in that lets them claim “You cannot get this anywhere else”, and does it impact on the returns they might expect to gain?

Sbould they/could they try to assert some sort of database collection right over the collection/curation and re-presentation of the data that is otherwise publicly available that would (nominally!) prevent me from using this data? Does the publication of the data using the shared link with the authorisation token imply some sort of license with which that data is made available? E.g. by accepting the link by clicking on it, becuase it is a shared link rather than a public link, could the Datastore attach some sort of tacit click-wrap license conditions over the data that I accept when I accept the shared data by clicking through the shared link? (Does the/can the sharing come with conditions attached?)

PS It seems there was a minor “issue” with the settings of the spreadsheet, a result of recent changes to the Google sharing setup. Spreadsheets should now be fully viewable… But as I mention in a comment below, I think there are still interesting questions to be considered around the extent to which publishers of “public” data can get a return on that data?

More crowdsourcing from the Guardian and NYT – this time on Iran

They’re at it again. Following the very domestic issue of MPs’ expenses, The Guardian’s latest experiment with crowdsourcing goes international: Iran. Continue reading

Every news organisation should have a Datastore

You may know about The Guardian’s Datastore: a compilation of “publicly-available data for you to use free” that’s been around for a few months now. You know the sort of thing: university tables; MPs’ expensestax paid by the FTSE 100.

It has already produced some great work from what I once described as the “Technician” variant of distributed journalism

But a column by Charles Arthur recently was the first example I’ve seen of Datastore being used for, well, more ordinary data – the sort of information journalists deal with every week. Here’s how it appeared in print:

“I dug up the figures from the UK music industry: the British record industry’s trade association (the BPI), and the UK games industry (via its trade body, Elspa) as well as the DVD industry (through the UK Film Council and the British Video Association). The results are over on the Guardian Data Store (http://bit.ly/data01), because they are the sort of numbers that should be available to everyone to chew over.

“What did I find? Total spending has grown – but music spending is being squeezed. The games industry – hardware and software – has grown from £1.4bn in 1999 (the year Napster started, and the music business stood rabbit-transfixed) to £4.04bn in 2008. That’s 12% annual compound growth. You’d kill for an endowment like that. Even DVD sales and rental take a £2.5bn bite out of consumers’ available funds, double that of 1999.

“So the music industry’s deadliest enemy isn’t filesharing – it’s the likes of Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony, and a zillion games publishers.”

That link (which frustratingly isn’t active in the online article) takes you to a Datablog post by Arthur which in turn links to a rather simple spreadsheet. 

And it’s the simplicity that I think is important.

It’s one thing to link to huge datasets that benefit from lots of eyeballs looking for stories, or perming the data in different ways.

But it’s something else to link to the more everyday figures journalists deal with; to show your sums, in short.

Is this a natural extension of the blogging culture of linking to your sources? I think it is. And the more journalists get used to publishing their work on the likes of Google Spreadsheets, the better journalism we will get.

So why aren’t more journalists doing it? And why aren’t more news organisations providing a place for them to do it? Or are they? I’d love to know of any other individual or organisational examples.