Data analysis as performance art

By jajacobs | September 4, 2007

Data analysis as performance art is the title of a posting on Jon Udell’s blog where he introduces a really nicely done screencast comparing local and national crime data using ManyEyes, the online visualization software hosted by IBM.

I found the screencast, Crime in New Hampshire: Exploring the data, interesting for several reasons:

It is a good example of data availability (“I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve been trying to investigate a perceived crime wave in my home town. You’d think it would be straightforward to get hold of the data but, after four months, I’m still trying. Meanwhile, however, I found some historical data at the Bureau of Justice, and I decided to see what I could make of that.")

It shows how an amateur data analyst proceeds and how far he gets and what he discovers about data quality and comparability. (Udell observes “that town-reported crime statistics rolled up to a statewide total don’t agree with state crime statistics as seen from a national perspective.")

It demonstrates ManyEyes and it’s utility very nicely.

As far as “performance art,” Udell make the excellent point that:

The charts used in my screencast could have been made in Excel or in any other charting package. By making them in Many Eyes, I added the important new dimension of social analysis.

But what I realized while making them is that narrated animation is really the secret sauce. Analytical software, whether it’s Excel or GapMinder or Many Eyes or something else, is necessary but not sufficient. The stories that people will understand, and remember, are the ones that have been performed well.

And so he demonstrates how screencasting can be used as an educational tool. Finally, ManyEyes provides a quick way to share data. You can explore and use Udell’s datasets at ManyEyes here:

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