Stamen Design has created Oakland Crimespotting, a map interface to explore crimes in Oakland, CA. They have freed data from CrimeWatch and presented it on Virtual Earth tiles in a much more useable format.
On the homepage you are presented with a map of Oakland covered in crime markers. Each type of crime is assigned a color-coded icon with an abbreviation. You can highlight all of a crime type’s markers with a mouseover. You can also change the number of days for which crimes are shown. Each crime has a detail page and that crime can then be viewed in context with others. You can also slice the data by day, type and the intersection of the two. You can also subscribe to get email alerts and RSS feeds for a specific place in Oakland.
This is the second foray for Modest Maps, Stamen’s open source Flash and Python-based mapping framework. The first, Trulia’s Hindsight, was launched at Where 2.0. Just like Crimespotting, Hindsight provides you with a time-phased view of public data — in Hindsight’s case it’s nation-wide housing records (Radar post).
Stamen built this project for several reasons. One was to give Modest Maps another showcase application. Another was to free public data and make it more usable. As they say on the homepage of the site:
We’ve found ourselves frustrated by the proprietary systems and long disclaimers that ultimately limit information available to the public. As citizens we have a right to public information. A clear understanding of our environment is essential to an informed citizenry.
We believe that civic data should be exposed to the public in a more open way. With these maps, we hope to inspire local governments to use this data visualization model for the public release of many different kinds of data: tree plantings, new schools, applications for liquor licenses, and any other information that matters to people who live in neighborhoods.
I agree with them. It’s amazingly frustrating that data procured with public funds is not more readily available. It is hidden behind archaic TOS, proprietary formats, and poorly designed sites. It’s a problem all over the world. Start-ups like Swivel (Disclosure: Jesse is an adviser to Swivel) and FortiusOne (producers of GeoCommons) are built around making public data more accessible, but sometimes it’s good to see people take it into their own hands.