Pimp your Google Map

Today I’m having my first visualization published at Helsingin Sanomat. A map of all the discharges in Helsinki during one night (21-22.12) showing reported crimes and accidents. Check it out:

Go to HS.fi.

It’s a pretty basic visualizations. I got a bunch of addresses that I geocoded using the Yahoos place finder API and projected on Google Maps. I’m a huge fan of a lot of the Google tools out there. Most notably the Docs platform, which step by step is phasing out my decency on MS Office (at least MS Word).

However, I have been quite sceptical towards Google Maps. Mostly because of its – in lack of a better word – ugliness. We’ve seen enough of that pale blue-green-yellow layout.

The good news is that Google has made it possible to easily style your maps using a simple online interface. In this example I’ve just inverted the lightness, added a pink hue and reduced the saturation of the water.

The options are endless. You can easily spend hours playing around with the different settings.

Not too many developers and designers seem to have found this tool yet, but my prediction for 2012 is that there will be a lot more styled Google Maps. And why not a portal with open map skins for anyone to use? I can’t find anything like that at the moment.


How open data improved election coverage in Finland

This is a guest post I’ve written at the Open Knowledge Foundation Blog.

Parliamentary elections in Finland are usually rather dull. Rarely does the rest of the world bother to pay any attention. But this year was different. The elections in April were the most exciting ones in decades with the incredible rise (from 5 to 19 percent) of the populist party True Finns as the main attraction. But the intricate political puzzle that followed the success of the True Finns was not the only source of excitement in the elections. Especially not if you happen to be an open data enthusiast.

Since the mid-90s so called voter advice applications have played an increasingly important role in the Finnish elections. Voter advice applications are questionnaires about political issues put together by media outlets and NGOs for candidates to answer. Voters can then see which candidate match their own views best.

The by-product of these applications is a very interesting set of data. Here you got all the opinions of (almost) all the candidates gathered in an easily accesible format. I don’t know about you, but this surely gets me going.

Up until now this data has been a completely vested resource. The news rooms have kept it to themselves and not managed to take the analysis past the level of “lets see what the candidates think about nuclear power”. But this year things changed. The leading newspaper Helsingin Sanomat decided to publish their data openly a week before the elections. And within a couple of days The Crowd (bloggers, programmers etc.) managed to do more with the data than journalist had done in fifteen years:

  • Kansan Muisti (“the memory of the people”), a site resembling It’s Your Parliament, used the data to investigate if the MPs had voted in accordance with the promises made in the voter advice applications before the elections.

A few weeks after the election the public broadcaster YLE followed the example of Helsingin Sanomat and published their data as well.

Journalism is changing. The immediate reaction of a traditional journalist is often resistance when someone asks a newsroom to publicly share data. “Someone might steal a story that we haven’t yet done!!!” argues the Journalist 1.0.

But it is time to realize that journalistic output does not only have to be 700 word stories, neatly structured with headings, preamble and text. Journalism can also be publishing a set of data that will be refined and possibly developed into new stories by readers. As the case of Finland shows, there is still a great amount of unused journalistic potential in The Crowd.


Finland on Facebook – according to candidates

With whom should Finland be friends on Facebook? Helsingin Sanomat asked this question of all the candidates in the parliamentary elections. I screen scraped that the 1747 answers to see what they thought. If the candidates would get to choose, Finland’s Facebook profile would look something like this:

Russia
1057 friends in common
Sweden
885 friends in common
Estonia
595 friends in common
Norway
591 friends in common
Germany
373 friends in common
USA
219 friends in common
Denmark
145 friends in common
China
119 friends in common
Cuba
71 friends in common
India
61 friends in common

So Russia is apparently our best friend. Or at least that is what we want to make them believe. Cuba ends up surprisingly high, but that is much beacuse of the Communist Party that is still keeping it real.

You’ll find the data on Google Docs if you want to examine it yourself.