Mashup is a very peculiar word for the business of making public information useful in new ways.
There are basically two things you can do with public information that may help with your cause or in your neighbourhood.
- You can add the data to tools so you can see the information in new ways. This is known as visualisation.
- You can combine it with other sources of information to tell a new story or create something different. This is data mashing.
Don’t think this is complicated. It’s much the same as turning a column of figures into a graph or a pie chart but using simple tools on the internet.
Here’s a simple example. Take the wikipedia page for Madonnna. Let’s treat it as our data source (it could just as easily be local crime reports/figures or the addresses of child care centre). Add it into a tool called wordle and instead of just plain text we end up with a new way to see the information. The word cloud gives priority to the most used words:
That’s data visualisation. Similar tools include maps, graphs and a wide range of new ways to help us see information. Every set of data looks a little different – below we have done the same for Britney:
Britney’s visualisation uses the word ONE more than Madonna’s – sorry Madge!
Britney, Madonna and data mashing:
This time though lets make something new, lets combine two lots of information, the data about Madonna and the data about Britney. We get something else altogether – we get Bridonna:
What we are looking at is something altogether new – as a result of combining two or more sources of information and using a simple web tool to help us see the information in different ways. Bridonna is a combination of data mashing and visualisation.
In your neighbourhood this could involving mixing information taken from the government about deprivation with perhaps a survey you may have done yourselves to measure how happy people are, all visualised using a map. That would be your mashup. They key is to come up with ideas which will help in the places where you live.
Read on for more detail and more technical stuff:
So what kind of data is available and how can you get hold it? Well, you might already have the data you need in form of a spreadsheet. You might keep a spreadsheet of names and postcodes of people who have attended a particular event.
There is already a lot of public data available, but we want to encourage public sectors to release even more. Rewiredstate.org has a collection of data sources, however not all of them are as accessible as you might wish.
“This is a list of data sources we’ve found that will hopefully be useful. Some are apis, but many require screen-scraping or downloading.”
You could also encourage people to contribute to your own data source. If you are familiar with Twitter, you will know that it’s open for everyone to send messages attached with a hashtag. The service makes all these tweets available in one rss feed for you to tamper with. The same is true for almost any other social/sharing networks; Flickr, Delicious, Facebook etc. all provide rss feeds (or APIs) containing raw data about specific information in their database. We have collected a list of some of the data resources on our Public Data page.
Once you got your data or source of information, you need a tool to actually transform it. Some of the most popular include maps, graphs and word clouds.
Maps, Graphs and Word Clouds
Maps provided by Google and Yahoo are very popular tools for data mashups and visualisation. Earlier this year, a group of people on Twitter decided to document the heavy snowfall in the UK. A Google map was quickly set up to show all the data collected from Twitter. People were send tweets which rating the amount of snow that was falling, giving it a number out of ten against the area of their postcode. They might say ” #uksnow B12 8/10″.
This generated hundreds of messages, pretty useless on their own, but once put on a live updating map, it gave a pretty good overview of how much snow was currently falling across Britain. A great example of data visualisation.
As you can see, mashups and visual representations of data can be very simple. But it also has the power to create something really useful (and a bit more complicated) like TheyWorkForYou and traintimes.org.uk. It is all about thinking of data and how it can be used. If you have an idea, it’s just a matter of time before someone will make it happen.
We are encouraging public bodies to make more of their data available, so people who wish to make these things can do so without any hassle.
Kasper Sorensen and Nick Booth