Quickly turning around data

Inspired by the chaps over at Google, Twitter unveiled their first Transparency Report in July last year, which aimed to shed more light on:

  • government requests for user information
  • government requests to withhold content, and
  • DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown notices received from copyright holders.

The report also described how and when Twitter responded to these requests, but the take-home message was the rapidly increasing number of government appeals for information; “more in the first half of 2012 than in the entirety of 2011.”

6 months later in January this year, Twitter rolled out transparency.twitter.com – a new home for their transparency report and part of a drive to make the data more accessible.

Within a couple minutes of this tweet…

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… I had gone onto the site and quickly copied the data for both removal requests and copyright notices into a Google spreadsheet. The data was split into 2 sets (Q1 – Q2 and Q3 – Q4) and so required a brief bit of formatting before it was ready to visualise.

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After spending 10 minutes or so wrangling the data into the right format (read my earlier post regarding Google Fusion tables and getting hold of shape files) I had the following data, ready to chart, plot, map, or do whatever was needed:

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There are a number of ways to visualise the above datasets, but to ensure a quick turnaround of the data, I opted for the built in Google options of Google Charts and Google Fusion tables. Both tools are free.

If you’re familiar with creating charts and graphs in Excel, Google’s Chart Wizard should be fairly intuitive. Even if you’re a bit rusty, the wizard previews any changes you make to your chart before you finalise, so play around with the options until you’ve got your visualisation the way you want it.

Be wary of choosing an unnecessary and overcomplicated type of chart; with relatively simple datasets like these, if your visualisation isn’t helping you to distinguish between different variables or interpret the data in a more efficient way, it’s not doing its job properly.

The ease and speed with which someone can use Google’s free tools to quickly turn around data meant that in 15 minutes of Twitter’s original tweet, I had produced and tweeted this:

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…and in less than 60 minutes, I had produced and tweeted this:

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As I don’t have a self-hosted WordPress blog, you’ll have to click on the above image to link to the actual Fusion map.

This fast turnaround of data is the sort of style that the Guardian datablog utilises effectively every day, thereby keeping their posts newsworthy. While custom-coded visualisations are often very impressive, they take time and effort to create. For simple data that you’ve accessed soon after its release, this is the way to go.


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