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Beautiful Data

Cover of Beautiful Data by Jeff Hammerbacher... Published by O'Reilly Media, Inc.
  1. Beautiful Data
    1. SPECIAL OFFER: Upgrade this ebook with O’Reilly
    2. A Note Regarding Supplemental Files
    3. Preface
      1. How This Book Is Organized
      2. Conventions Used in This Book
      3. Using Code Examples
      4. How to Contact Us
      5. Safari® Books Online
    4. 1. Seeing Your Life in Data
      1. Personal Environmental Impact Report (PEIR)
      2. your.flowingdata (YFD)
      3. Personal Data Collection
      4. Data Storage
      5. Data Processing
      6. Data Visualization
      7. The Point
      8. How to Participate
    5. 2. The Beautiful People: Keeping Users in Mind When Designing Data Collection Methods
      1. Introduction: User Empathy Is the New Black
      2. The Project: Surveying Customers About a New Luxury Product
      3. Specific Challenges to Data Collection
      4. Designing Our Solution
      5. Results and Reflection
    6. 3. Embedded Image Data Processing on Mars
      1. Abstract
      2. Introduction
      3. Some Background
      4. To Pack or Not to Pack
      5. The Three Tasks
      6. Slotting the Images
      7. Passing the Image: Communication Among the Three Tasks
      8. Getting the Picture: Image Download and Processing
      9. Image Compression
      10. Downlink, or, It's All Downhill from Here
      11. Conclusion
    7. 4. Cloud Storage Design in a PNUTShell
      1. Introduction
      2. Updating Data
      3. Complex Queries
      4. Comparison with Other Systems
      5. Conclusion
      6. Acknowledgments
      7. References
    8. 5. Information Platforms and the Rise of the Data Scientist
      1. Libraries and Brains
      2. Facebook Becomes Self-Aware
      3. A Business Intelligence System
      4. The Death and Rebirth of a Data Warehouse
      5. Beyond the Data Warehouse
      6. The Cheetah and the Elephant
      7. The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Data
      8. New Tools and Applied Research
      9. MAD Skills and Cosmos
      10. Information Platforms As Dataspaces
      11. The Data Scientist
      12. Conclusion
    9. 6. The Geographic Beauty of a Photographic Archive
      1. Beauty in Data: Geograph
      2. Visualization, Beauty, and Treemaps
      3. A Geographic Perspective on Geograph Term Use
      4. Beauty in Discovery
      5. Reflection and Conclusion
      6. Acknowledgments
      7. References
    10. 7. Data Finds Data
      1. Introduction
      2. The Benefits of Just-in-Time Discovery
      3. Corruption at the Roulette Wheel
      4. Enterprise Discoverability
      5. Federated Search Ain't All That
      6. Directories: Priceless
      7. Relevance: What Matters and to Whom?
      8. Components and Special Considerations
      9. Privacy Considerations
      10. Conclusion
    11. 8. Portable Data in Real Time
      1. Introduction
      2. The State of the Art
      3. Social Data Normalization
      4. Conclusion: Mediation via Gnip
    12. 9. Surfacing the Deep Web
      1. What Is the Deep Web?
      2. Alternatives to Offering Deep-Web Access
      3. Conclusion and Future Work
      4. References
    13. 10. Building Radiohead's House of Cards
      1. How It All Started
      2. The Data Capture Equipment
      3. The Advantages of Two Data Capture Systems
      4. The Data
      5. Capturing the Data, aka "The Shoot"
      6. Processing the Data
      7. Post-Processing the Data
      8. Launching the Video
      9. Conclusion
    14. 11. Visualizing Urban Data
      1. Introduction
      2. Background
      3. Cracking the Nut
      4. Making It Public
      5. Revisiting
      6. Conclusion
    15. 12. The Design of
      1. Visualization and Social Data Analysis
      2. Data
      3. Visualization
      4. Collaboration
      5. Voyagers and Voyeurs
      6. Conclusion
      7. References
    16. 13. What Data Doesn't Do
      1. When Doesn't Data Drive?
      2. Conclusion
      3. References
    17. 14. Natural Language Corpus Data
      1. Word Segmentation
      2. Secret Codes
      3. Spelling Correction
      4. Other Tasks
      5. Discussion and Conclusion
      6. Acknowledgments
    18. 15. Life in Data: The Story of DNA
      1. DNA As a Data Store
      2. DNA As a Data Source
      3. Fighting the Data Deluge
      4. The Future of DNA
      5. Acknowledgments
    19. 16. Beautifying Data in the Real World
      1. The Problem with Real Data
      2. Providing the Raw Data Back to the Notebook
      3. Validating Crowdsourced Data
      4. Representing the Data Online
      5. Closing the Loop: Visualizations to Suggest New Experiments
      6. Building a Data Web from Open Data and Free Services
      7. Acknowledgments
      8. References
    20. 17. Superficial Data Analysis: Exploring Millions of Social Stereotypes
      1. Introduction
      2. Preprocessing the Data
      3. Exploring the Data
      4. Age, Attractiveness, and Gender
      5. Looking at Tags
      6. Which Words Are Gendered?
      7. Clustering
      8. Conclusion
      9. Acknowledgments
      10. References
    21. 18. Bay Area Blues: The Effect of the Housing Crisis
      1. Introduction
      2. How Did We Get the Data?
      3. Geocoding
      4. Data Checking
      5. Analysis
      6. The Influence of Inflation
      7. The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Poorer
      8. Geographic Differences
      9. Census Information
      10. Exploring San Francisco
      11. Conclusion
      12. References
    22. 19. Beautiful Political Data
      1. Example 1: Redistricting and Partisan Bias
      2. Example 2: Time Series of Estimates
      3. Example 3: Age and Voting
      4. Example 4: Public Opinion and Senate Voting on Supreme Court Nominees
      5. Example 5: Localized Partisanship in Pennsylvania
      6. Conclusion
      7. References
    23. 20. Connecting Data
      1. What Public Data Is There, Really?
      2. The Possibilities of Connected Data
      3. Within Companies
      4. Impediments to Connecting Data
      5. Possible Solutions
      6. Conclusion
    24. A. Contributors
    25. Index
    26. About the Authors
    27. COLOPHON
    28. SPECIAL OFFER: Upgrade this ebook with O’Reilly
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Personal Data Collection

Personal data collection is somewhat different from scientific data gathering. Personal data collection is usually less formal and does not happen in a laboratory under controlled conditions. People collect data in the real world where there can be interruptions, bad network connectivity, or limited access to a computer. Users are not necessarily data experts, so when something goes wrong (as it inevitably will), they might not know how to adjust. Therefore, we have to make data collection as simple as possible for the user. It should be unobtrusive, intuitive, and easy to access so that it is more likely that data collection becomes a part of the daily routine.

Working Data Collection into Routine

This is one of the main reasons I chose Twitter as YFD's data proxy from phone or computer to the database. Twitter allows users to post tweets via several outlets. The ability to post tweets via mobile phone lets users log data from anywhere their phones can send SMS messages, which means they can document something as it happens and do not have to wait until they have access to a computer. A person will most likely forget if she has to wait. Accessibility is key.

One could accomplish something similar with email instead of Twitter since most mobile phones let people send SMS to an email address, and this was in fact the original implementation of YFD. However, we go back to data collection as a natural part of daily routine. Millions of people already use Twitter regularly, so part of the challenge is already relieved. People do use email frequently as well, and it is possible they are more comfortable with it than Twitter, but the nature of the two is quite different. On Twitter, people update several times a day to post what they are doing. Twitter was created for this single purpose. Maybe a person is eating a sandwich, going out for a walk, or watching a movie. Hundreds of thousands tweet this type of information every day. Email, on the other hand, lends itself to messages that are more substantial. Most people would not email a friend to tell them they are watching a television program—especially not every day or every hour.

By using Twitter, we get this posting regularity that hopefully transfers to data collection. I tried to make data logging on YFD feel the same as using Twitter. For instance, if someone eats a salami sandwich, he sends a message: "ate salami sandwich." Data collection becomes conversational in this way. Users do not have to learn a new language like SQL. Instead, they only have to remember keywords followed by the value. In the previous example, the keyword is ate and the value is salami sandwich. To track sleep, a user simply sends a keyword: goodnight when going to sleep and gmorning when waking.

In some ways, posting regularity with PEIR was less challenging than with YFD. Because PEIR collects data automatically in the background, the user just has to start the software on his phone with a few presses of a button. Development of that software came with its own difficulties, but that story is really for a different article.

Asynchronous data collection

For both PEIR and YFD, we found that asynchronous data collection was actually necessary. People wanted to enter and upload data after the event(s) of interest had occurred. On YFD, people wanted to be able to add a timestamp to their tweets, and PEIR users wanted to upload GPS data manually.

As said before, the original concept of YFD was that people would enter data only when something occurred. That was the benefit and purpose of using Twitter. However, many people did not use Twitter via their mobile phone, so they would have to wait until a computer was available. Even those who did send SMS messages to Twitter often forgot to log data; some people just wanted to enter all of their data at the end of the day.

Needless to say, YFD now supports timestamps. It was still important that data entry syntax was as close to conversational as possible. To accommodate this, users can append the time to any of their tweets. For example, "ate roast chicken and potatoes at 6:00pm" or "goodnight at 23:00." The timestamp syntax is to simply append "at hh:mm" to the end of a tweet. I also found it useful to support both standard and military time formats. Finally, when a user enters a timestamp, YFD will record the most recent occurrence of the time, so in the previous "goodnight" example, YFD would enter the data point for the previous night.

PEIR was also originally designed only for "in the moment" data collection. As mentioned before, Campaignr runs on a user's mobile phone and uploads GPS data periodically (up to every 20 seconds) to our central server. This adds up to hundreds of thousands of data points for a single user who runs PEIR every day with very little effort from the user's side. Once the PEIR application is installed on a phone, a user simply starts the application with a couple of button presses. However, almost right from the beginning, we found we could not rely on having a network connection 100% of the time, since there are almost always areas where there is no signal from the service carrier. The simplest, albeit naive, approach would be to collect and upload data only when the phone has a connection, but we might lose large chunks of data. Instead, we use a cache to store data on a phone's local memory until connectivity resumes. We also provide a second option to collect data without any synchronous uploading at all.

The takeaway point is that it is unreasonable to expect people to collect data for events at the time they happen. People forget or it is inconvenient at the time. In any case, it is important that users are able to enter data later on, which in turn affects the design of the next steps in the data flow.

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