Aug 17

Brady Forrest

Brady Forrest

More on Crime Spotters

la homicide map

Yesterday Stamen Design released a very stylized crime map of Oakland, CA (Radar post). I've since been made aware of some derivative works and other crime maps that I am going to share.

If you live in LA (or are considering it) then you may want to check out The Homicide Map (above). It was just launched on August 13th and is a geo-oriented visualization of the Homicide Report. The map is updated weekly and "is compiled using information from the Los Angeles County Coroner, local law enforcement agencies, and the Los Angeles Times". You can get raw data out via KML and RSS. The Map provides rich search and filtering capabilities on race/ethinicity, age, gender, cause, and day of the week. It's a very impressive site.
[via Google Maps Mania]

The city of Portland uses its GIS tools to publish Crime Mapper. It's a summary tool and is not interactive like many crime mashups. Unfortunately I don't see the raw data available on the site. Its interesting because you don't often get to see traditional GIS tools output on the web, we're all so used to Google Maps. [via Robbie Wright via comment on Radar]

Mapufacture has added the Stamen-derived Oakland Crime data to their site so that you can now make your own. They also make it very easy to get the raw feed yourself.

Crime mashups aren't new. They are all inspired by one of the first Google Maps Mashups, Chicago Crime. It was written by Adrian Holovaty, co-creator the Python framework Django. They are all an example of structured information collection in journalism. As he argues in this excellent post, journalists, when researching a story, should capture the data in a structured way so that later certain attributes can be used again. As Adrian states it so well:

This is a subtle problem, and therein lies the rub. In my experience, when I've tried to explain the error of storing everything as a news article, journalists don't immediately understand why it is bad. To them, a publishing system is just a means to an end: getting information out to the public. They want it to be as fast and streamlined as possible to take information batch X and put it on Web site Y. The goal isn't to have clean data -- it's to publish data quickly, with bonus points for a nice user interface.

But the goal for me, a data person focused more on the long term, is to store information in the most valuable format possible. The problem is particularly frustrating to explain because it's not necessarily obvious; if you store everything on your Web site as a news article, the Web site is not necessarily hard to use. Rather, it's a problem of lost opportunity. If all of your information is stored in the same "news article" bucket, you can't easily pull out just the crimes and plot them on a map of the city. You can't easily grab the events to create an event calendar. You end up settling on the least common denominator: a Web site that knows how to display one type of content, a big blob of text. That Web site cannot do the cool things that readers are beginning to expect.

Here's to hoping Oakland Crimespotting and the Homicide Map serve as inspiration for other journalistic institutions.

tags: emerging tech, geo, web 2.0  | comments: 7   | Sphere It

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Comments: 7

  Ajeet Khurana [08.17.07 10:46 AM]

Surely there are many more public data sets that are available, other than crime data. Or as Seinfeld would say, "What's the deal with Crime Maps?"

Actually, I am happy to see this initiative. I hope to see much more accessible (visual and otherwise) representation of public data.

  LACA Tony [08.17.07 11:09 AM]

An earlier version of th The Homicide Map has been produced for months by a USC professor on a volunteer basis. The new map only came about because of the increasing popularity of The Homicide Report, which started in January 2007.

  Karl Fogel [08.17.07 11:09 AM]

Here's a non-crime example: I'd love to see mashups showing real-estate ownership in various cities. Not just renters vs owners, but who are the particular owners. Say, the top 10 or 20 private owners could each get their own color; then we'd see how the map looks. Is it dominated by a few colors? Is it more of a rainbow?

Maybe use bold, mutually contrasting colors for the top percentages, and different shades of similar colors for the lower percentages. That way small-scale owners would appear visually as a single category, which (probably?) reflects how they behave statistically, while large individual owners have less predictable behavior, since they are more likely to have distinct individual interests.

Adrian's comments suggest the possible emergence of a new class of journalists: infographers (datographers? dataspondents? :-) ) who think about information in terms of re-use and parseability, rather than just in terms of presentation in one article intended for immediate human consumption.

But I wonder if those skills correlate well with the ability to persistently chase down a source until they reveal crucial information, or with the ability to write on deadline... It might require a separate group, of people like Adrian :-), who work with other kinds of reporters to produce a final product that satisfies all kinds of consumers.

  brady [08.17.07 11:52 AM]

In his Adrian lists a number of facts always needed for any type of event. the who, what, when, where answers that are always needed.
He is arguing that reporters (and their assistants)should not put those answers in one blob, but instead into a structured template. I don't think that needs a new type of reporter. They need that info anyway. I think that they just need a new way of storing it.

  Michael R. Bernstein [08.17.07 11:49 PM]

I don't think it needs a new type of reporter either, any more than dumpster diving and piecing together shredded documents does.

What it does require is elevation of infographics and so on to the status of reporting, rather than just an afterthought farmed out to the lowest bidder, or some intern, as well as a broader understanding that saving data for later re-use makes it easier to follow up with more articles.

Not all reporters will do this, just as not all save good interview notes today. Oh well.

  jonah [08.18.07 09:44 AM]

Nobody really cares. Come up with something useful like where some food is on sale today or some thing that saves me money or makes me happy.

Crime? Please. What do I look like, a crime junkie?

  Joe Friday [09.15.07 10:17 PM]

"What do I look like, a crime junkie?"

Now that you mention it... a little.

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