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Data Journalism, or how open data can transform journalism

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Today the job of a journalist is to be the first to report on a new event or a given topic. However, being first is often at the expense of quality. Even being the first is more and more of a challenge, as nowadays, every single citizen can become a journalist in five seconds. Just open a Twitter account, select relevant hash-tags (i.e. those keywords starting with a #) to your topic and start tweeting about what is happening around you (e.g. earthquake, epidemics, political problems etc.).

In this post, we will demonstrate how journalists could benefit from open data, allowing journalism to shift its main focus from being the first report on a development to being the first to telling us what it might actually mean. Using open data, journalists can help everyone to see possible solutions to complex problems. What I’m saying here is that journalism would be less guessing, less looking for quotes — instead, a journalist could build a strong position supported by data and this can affect the role of journalism greatly.

A first interesting and inspiring example in data journalism is the Las Vegas Do Not Harm series on hospital care (the next post will be about medical open data, stay tuned).

The Sun analyzed more than 2.9 million hospital billing records, which revealed more than 3600 preventable injuries, infections and surgical mistakes. They obtained data through a public records request and identified more than 300 cases in which patients died because of mistakes that could have been prevented. It contains different elements, including: an interactive graphic which allows the reader to see by hospital, where surgical injuries happened more often than would be expected; a map with a timeline that shows infections spreading hospital by hospital; and an interactive graphic that allows users to sort data by preventable injuries or by hospital to see where people are getting hurt.

Another data journalism project is called “Murder Mysteries” by Tom Hargrove of the Scripps Howard News Service. He built from government data and public records requests a demographically-detailed database of more than 185,000 unsolved murders, and then designed an algorithm to search it for patterns suggesting the possible presence of serial killers. An interesting input if you are considering in a particular geographical area, right?

Open Data journalism is the future of journalism. More concretely, it is journalism that leverages open data in order to unravel the meaning of a story. More specifically, it can be declined to the following dimensions:

  • Enable a reader to discover information that is personally relevant
  • Reveal a story that is remarkable and previously unknown
  • Help the reader to better understand a complex issue

Open Linked Data is a key for the success of data journalism. Also, powerful data visualization techniques are needed so that journalists can:

  • Find open data relevant to the subject of the article they are planning to write
  • Manipulate the available data (perform statistics, connect data etc.).

Data journalism may predict the next financial crisis, help fight poverty and corruption.

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Free trade agreement between the EU and the US

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Free trade talks between the EU and the US is a game changer likely to have major impact on ICT. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the two economic superpowers was initiated 13 February 2013 and is currently in negotiations. Once an agreement is reached – and there is little doubt this will happen – demand for SaaS solutions, platforms, trading solutions and BI systems capable of treating both economic regions as a single entity as far as reporting and output is concerned is expected to increase dramatically. The opportunity is there, but capitalizing on it requires overcoming weaknesses present at both sides that are mostly of cultural nature.

Technologically, there is little difference between EU and US ICTs. How they approach the issue of developing solutions, however, is almost inverse. EU ICTs tend to begin on the architecture with focus on delivering robust solutions that have great structural integrity. US ICTs tend to look first at market needs and what can be sold before assembling a solution (often using bits and pieces from other sources) that will capture market share quickly. It can be argued that the reason why the EU has fewer internationally recognized software brands than the US is the availability of public funds through EC programs such as the Seventh Framework Programme (FP 7) (and soon Horizon 2020) that do not require ICTs to project any return on the investment (ROI). In the US, the Small Business Administration (SBA) provides loans that need to be repaid and the newly established Accelerating Market-Driven Partnerships (AMP) initiative is more of a VC-type funding mechanism that outright grants. In short, EU ICTs are not expected to generate any ROI while US ICTs are forced to. Which one is more likely to develop a highly marketable product?

In light of the free trade agreement, EU ICTs are in danger of being overrun by US market-driven solutions. There is, however, a weakness in the US structure that the EU can and should explore and it ties directly to the funding mechanisms of the US. In return for capital, US ICTs must either give away part of their businesses to investors or use it as collateral in order to secure a loan. For small firms, this can become growth inhibiting. So, as the EU funding mechanism keeps ICT ownership intact, US firms should consider relocating all or part of their business to the EU to become eligible for the type of capital injections provided. By attracting US firms (Malta’s income tax incentive is noteworthy), the EU will gain considerable knowledge in how to deliver cost effective solutions aimed toward the mass markets; an area where there is a lot of room for improvement as EU customer service often leaves much to be desired. In return, US firms become exposed to challenges that are far beyond what they encounter in the home market – EU’s languages and currencies – which helps them develop superior solutions that will work anywhere.

For ICT investors, the scenario offers considerable opportunities. For US investors, investing in EU ICTs that can be merged or partnered with US ICTs already in the portfolio is strategically sound. The inverse situation applies to EU investors. In order to capitalize on the emerging opportunity, ICTs from both sides of the Atlantic will be brought closer together; it will not be enough to focus on the home market. There are other benefits for US ICTs, one of which is the EU’s giant open data repositories. Most US data is privately generated and therefore privately held. EU’ s Open Data environment is a digital goldmine that EU ICTs have so far proved rather unsuccessful in monetizing. The arrival of the US ICTs will change that.

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