"Copy, paste, map"

The FCC and FortiusOne launch IssueMap.org, a citizen-generated mapping tool.

Data, data everywhere, and all too many spreadsheets to think.

Citizens have a new tool to visualize data and map it onto their own communities. Geospatial startup FortiusOne and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have teamed up to launch IssueMap.org. IssueMap is squarely aimed at addressing one of the biggest challenges that government agencies, municipalities and other public entities have in 2011: converting open data into information that people can distill into knowledge and insight.

IssueMap must, like the data it visualizes, be put in context. The world is experiencing an unprecedented data deluge, a reality that my colleague Edd Dumbill described as another “industrial revolution” at last week’s Strata Conference. The release of more data under the Open Government Directive issued by the Obama Administration has resulted in even more data becoming available. The challenge is that for most citizens, the hundreds of thousands of data sets available at Data.gov, or at state or city data catalogs, don’t lead to added insight or utility in their every day lives. This partnership between FortiusOne and the FCC is an attempt to give citizens a mapping tool to make FCC data meaningful.


There are powerful data visualization tools available to developers who wish to mash up data with maps, but IssueMap may have a key differentiator: simplicity. As Michael Byrne, the first FCC geospatial information officer, put it this morning, the idea is to make it as easy as “copy, paste, map.”

Byrne blogged about the history of IssueMap at Reboot.gov:

Maps are a data visualization tool that can fix a rotten spreadsheet by making the data real and rich with context. By showing how data — and the decisions that produce data — affect people where they live, a map can make the difference between a blank stare and a knowing nod. Maps are also a crucial part of a decision-maker’s toolkit, clearly plotting the relationship between policies and geographies in easy-to-understand ways.

Working with FCC deputy GIO Eric Spry, Byrne created the video embedded below:

IssueMap was created using FortiusOne’s GeoIQ data visualization and analysis platform. “We built GeoIQ to enable non-technical users to easily make sense of data,” said Sean Gorman, president and founder of FortiusOne. “IssueMap capitalizes on those core capabilities, enabling citizens to bring greater awareness of important issues and prompt action.”

Gorman explained how to use IssueMap at the FortiusOne blog:

Once you’ve found some data you can either upload the spreadsheet (.csv, .xls, .xlsx, .odf) or just cut and paste into the IssueMap text box. Many tables you find online can also be cut and pasted to create a map. The data just needs to be clean with the first row containing your attributes and the data beneath having the values and geographies you would like to map. Even if you muck it up a bit IssueMap will give you helpful errors to let you know where you went wrong.

Once you’ve loaded your data just select the boundary you would like to join to and the value you would like to map. Click “Create Map” and magic presto you have a thematic map. Share your map via Twitter, Facebook or email. Now anyone can grab your map as an embed, download an image, grab the map as KML or get the raw data as a .csv. Your map is now viral and it can can be repurposed in a variety of useful ways.

One of the most powerful ways humanity has developed to communicate information over time is through maps. If you can take data in an open form (and CSV files are one of the most standard formats available) then there’s an opportunity to tell stories in a way that’s relevant to a region and personalized to an individual. That’s a meaningful opportunity.


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  • Eric

    The ability to generate misleading thematic maps such as “Life Expectancy by State” is hardly insightful. If fact, it falls into the category of “chart junk” and meaningless statistics. What next, blindly funneling data into regression analysis to produce ‘significant’ correlation coefficients?

    Even the most basic tools of data analysis and visualization are useless in the hands of someone who doesn’t understand how they work and what their results actually mean.

  • Elizabeth

    I also like this site for generating maps:

  • Thank you for the comment, Eric. I agree that “most basic tools of data analysis and visualization are useless in the hands of someone who doesn’t understand how they work and what their results actually mean.” New platforms do not replace education in math, statistics or logic.

    In that context, a teacher giving a students graph paper or a blue book won’t necessarily lead to insight either. Similarly, putting a freshman economics student in front of a spreadsheet won’t magically create a solution to an ailing corporation’s business model. Handing a novice a set of master builder’s tools and a pile of lumber isn’t likely to result in a livable house, either.

    To get the most from tools, people have to have education, knowledge and purpose. Using IssueMap.org or similar platforms is no different.

    The larger point here that should not be missed, however, is that average citizens without expertise in Google Fusion Tables or GIS software packages can make visualizations from data with this platform. Whether they choose to do so – and others derive meaningful insight from them – is another matter, although some of the examples over at OpenHeatMap.com suggest there’s at least some interest in creating these kinds of visualizations out there.

  • The same was often said of Blogs and online publishing by non-journalists. How could the average, untrained person provide news reporting and analysis without the history, experience, and stamp of authority of a traditional publishing organization.

    More approachable, and usable tools mean that the everyone is able to engage in the conversation. And unlike having a powersaw – you’re not *actually* going to chop off your fingers with a questionable visualization. You’re going to raise questions, and in the end raise the general data literacy.

    Through experimentation and conversation people will become aware of what are good, and poor, analysis – so that the next time they read a report, article, or other publication they are also better able to appropriately understand it.

  • Joel Neely

    Hmmm. The embedded video now returns a message, “This video has been removed by the user.”

  • Now that is Citizen 2.0……

  • Yagin

    I actually wanted to simply display multiple XY coordinates on a map – http://www.copypastemap.com.

    Coincidentaly, the name of this article is the same :)