Monthly Archives December 2009

Visualizing Chinese Media

For data geeks interested in the developing world, few places are more compelling to gather numbers about than China. This owes much to its legendary economic growth, the staggering size of its population and global footprint, and hybrid political system. But there is another, often overlooked characteristic of the country at work here: its relentless pursuit of what it calls “scientific development”, which emphasizes the use of scientific research as a means to achieve social harmony and balanced economic growth, has led to an explosion in data-fueled, science-based policy. As a result, China is now one of the largest and most sophisticated data-gathering entities in the world.

There’s a good reason for this. Unlike China’s early post-revolution cadres, the ranks of China’s top leadership today are brimming with scientists and engineers, including President Hu Jintao, who has a degree in hydraulic engineering. When government “works”, these technocrats steer Chinese policy down a painfully cautious course based on five, ten, and even twenty year plans crafted to satisfy discrete social, economic, and technological benchmarks. At any given moment, the country is teeming with pilot projects spanning areas like subsidized housing, health care, industrial development, and family planning, which will ultimately be scrutinized by the country’s National Reform and Development Commission for use at the national level.

This science-based approach is exactly why China has recently come forward with ambitious carbon emissions targets–global warming has a direct, significant impact on its population, and therefore social stability. None of these projects could be completed without good data, and China knows it.

While we’ve been emphasizing social media data with recent posts, we hope to shine more light on the state of Chinese data and bring more of it into the repository in the near future. To this end, and as a special holiday treat, we’re releasing a visualization of major Chinese websites we scraped this past October during the country’s meticulously executed 60th anniversary of its founding. We find the bright colors and flashing lights to be particularly seasonally appropriate.

Click here for the visualization

Open Data Applications

With President Obama’s Open Government Directive and news about’s overhaul, more and more people have been talking about the benefits of open data. Yes, this includes greater transparency and a more accountable government, but it also gives birth to useful apps that use these newly available datasets.

A lot of these apps have been made for competitions like Sunlight Lab’s Apps for America and various cities’ own initiatives like NYC BigApps. Understandably, they provide appealing incentives for programmers. (If not the recognition, the cash prizes are appealing).

All that said, these competitions have spawned very useful apps. Here are 5 that we feel are great examples of the good that can be done with government data:

This We Know  Explore U.S. Government Data About Your Community 11 150x150 Open Data Applications
1. This We Know (
This We Know is a excellent tool that provides a wealth of information sourced mainly from You name a place and it tells you what we know about that location – things like demographics or the number of factories in the area. It’s also presented in a very clear fashion, condensing data into an easily understandable and still useful format.

stumble 150x89 Open Data Applications
2. StumbleSafely (
This app from DC literally helps you stumble safely home. It uses data on crime and geography to map out safe routes from the more (in)famous bars in the city, no matter what time you like to party – day, evening or night.

photo 185 150x150 Open Data Applications
3. NYC Way (
An iPhone app, NYC Way provides you with a plethora of useful information for locals and tourists alike right at your fingertips. Location aware, it draws from a bunch of various datasets from the Data Mine and gives you facts about nearby zoos, wi-fi spots, emergency rooms, and a lot of other useful places to help you find your way in the big city.

everyblock 0 150x105 Open Data Applications
4. EveryBlock (
This one’s not yet available in Austin, but it does have versions for 15 cities across the nation. EveryBlock provides you with a newsfeed of things going on around a user specified address or location in these cities. It also allows you to browse by topic and track trends overtime.

ikid 150x150 Open Data Applications
5. iKidNY (
Not all apps are useful just for adults – this iPhone app, iKidNY, helps you find kid-friendly places all over the NYC. It provides you with locations and information about activities, kid-friendly restaurants, playgrounds, and even changing tables and subway elevators.

If you want to look at more apps, these competitions’ submission galleries are worth a look:
Apps for America 2
Apps for Democracy
NYC BigApps

Did we miss out on your favorite app? Let us know! We’d love to check it out.