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Defining Data Visualisation, Data Journalism & Data Entertainment

21 August, 2011 7 comments

This post and all other business-focused posts are now being held on the Seven League blog.

 

After my blog post from last week, Data? Entertainment? You need Datatainment, and a comment about datatainment seeming very close to data visualisation, I thought I’d try to define my thinking on how these terms differ.

  • Data + Visualisation is the process of making the data visible – the representation, such as Nike + or the use of epic, relies upon the data itself being informative or entertaining, but the process of visualisation does not apply an editorial filter. Of course, any design belies the application of some kind of filter – but with visualisation there is an attempt to represent the ‘real’ events or facts.
  • Data + Journalism is using that visibility to investigate an issue or point – it may not necessarily visualise the data for the user, but will use the techniques of visualisation in the journalistic process.
  • Data + Entertainment is where you use data as the primary source of entertainment. You might choose to make the visualisation of raw data entertaining or perhaps use data visualisation as part of the process of entertainment – but there’s definitely a strong editorial control which is focussed on entertaining the audience rather than exposing data.

Let me try to give examples:

Data Vis: Showing the number of check-ins on location based services foursquare and facebook check-in by MCFC fans over the course of the season.

Data Journalism: Using the visualisation to explore the patterns of LBS behaviour on match-days and therefore the stress on local transport infrastructure.

Datatainment: During the pre-match show at City Square, profiling the fan who’d checked-in at the Etihad Stadium the most over the course of the season. Or, bearing in mind that we have a huge number of people who visit us online during a game, perhaps we might also represent the global locations of our fans – maybe using foursquare’s ‘swarm’ approach to identify key hubs of City fandom outside Manchester so that we can bring those fans closer to the match day experience.

There are better ideas of what to do with Datatainment for City, but I won’t write about them here as I’d rather talk to the fans and see if we can deliver them in the real world.

Data? Entertainment? You need Datatainment

17 August, 2011 13 comments

This post and all other business-focused posts are now being held on the Seven League blog.

 

[In which I justify the creation of a horrible new term that describes where data and entertainment meet – in this case, through football and it’s fans.]

Datatainment is a new thing. Linguistically it’s a bastard son of Data and Entertainment, with it’s irritating cousins Gamification, Informercial and Advertainment. But I think it’s more than just a stupid word dreamt up to try to kick-start a dull meeting. Could it be a new genre? How does it differ from data journalism? And what does it have to do with football?

Though the journalist in me wants to write a fully thought-out report – the blogger will throw up some thoughts and see if you’ve got anything to say.

Way back

Many years ago I did some work that pioneered online data journalism. I only realised this the other day because, at the time, we didn’t call it that. I was just working on the ‘specials’ team for BBC News Online and 3 of us were dedicated to the Kosovo Conflict special report. One of my jobs was to get the overnight press release from the allied command which detailed the locations and targets of overnight bombing raids. Then I’d make sense of the data, and go to work with Max Gadney, then one of the designers, to turn it into a map which represented the data, but also registered the nature of the target. You may remember, this was the conflict where many claims were made about laser-sighted accuracy – and some of those claims were later found to be overblown. Schools and hospitals got hit – and the data showed it over a month of intense bombing raids.

Little did I know that, many years later, data journalism would become a ‘thing’. A thing many others have studied, researched, honed and blogged about. Something that you can do a course on or can feed with a well-focussed FOI request.

Data Journalism – it’s not Entertainment. It’s not Datatainment.

In my role as Head of Digital for Manchester City FC, I was meeting with a major global hardware and entertainment brand yesterday. When asked what was my next move in innovation – my answer was clear – to make the most of the data. We will lay down a data architecture, and we will invent data products to sit on top. We will use it to entertain and engage. We will use it to involve a wider audience. We get 40,000 people in our stadium, but we get at least 4 times that on our online Match Day Centre (MDC), but the big difference is that the capacity of our stadium is limited. Of course, the capacity online is not.

I’ve whinged about the use of ‘gamification’ as much as the next man. It’s fitting that my spellcheck on this machine has just corrected that word to ‘ramification’. The inimitable Margaret Robertson (@ranarama) has written, among others, just how mis-placed the awarding of points misses the point of how games and game theory can be employed to the benefit of a project. And that’s to say nothing of the badgification (!) that we’ve seen with foursquare and, seemingly, every other venture in the last year. But at least it’s not ‘greenification’ that I heard used at the Power to the Pixel conference keynote last year.

So, what the hell and I doing creating another of these sodding hybrid words.

Datatainment. it’s better than ‘datafication’.

Let me tell you a story. At the drinks after last year’s Story conference I met the chief creative at an award-winning Brighton agency who’d done lots of work with the BBC, Channel 4 and others. I thought to myself ‘excellent, I bet there’s some great stuff he could do for me at Manchester City… I wonder if he’d like to come and have a look at what we’ve got and talk about some opportunities.’

But when I told him that I worked for a football club, the disappointment was palpable. The light in his eyes died and I could see him thinking of a way to get out of there. But I am persistent, if nothing else. I gave him some facts: We have roughly 40000 people who turn up every week to the same place. More and more they turn up for a full day out – and the MCFC experience is one that really moves things beyond turning up a five minutes to 3pm, watching the game and going straight home. Our 40,000 season card holders are passionate and engaged with our brand (forgive me football fans, but you know what I mean). They’re representative of the population in terms of smartphone penetration or computer usage. AND, the vast majority of them carry the seasoncard around with them – a seasoncard that uses an oyster-card-like RFID chip to identify them and store some basic information. Oh, and because I thought it might come in handy, these 40000 peoples’ cards now also have personalised QR codes on them and, just because I could, they have augmented reality markers on the back too. Is that enough to do something cool and interesting with? No? then I told him some more…

In the last couple of months we’ve launched a tiered system of membership to the Club – and for the first time that includes a beginner-level membership – Blue. One of the main audiences that will be most interested in what this has to offer is the overseas audience – the audience who could never get to the ground but still want to be involved. And these Blue membership cards *also* have the RFID, QR and AR elements built in. So where we say 40,000 people have cards today… by the time the ex-pat and overseas audience gets involved, we’ll be talking many more. So, suddenly you’ve got a massive, engaged, excited audience focussing on the same series of events and all with personalised, data-driven, tech-useful clever cards.

Now, if you can’t do something exciting and creative with that lot… Can you imagine the amount of data coming off those cards? location, activity, frequency… and that’s without even adding any other levels of gaming on top. but I didn’t need to labour it. By this time he got the point and could see that maybe football was worth taking a closer look at.

What’s interesting is that this kind of data is just the beginning.

In terms of football data, what we get is phenomenal.
– opta stats – public and professional level telling you everything from a player’s possession rate to his average sprinting speed. and there are also the prozone and venatrack systems available. All this match, and training, performance tracking feeds into the Performance Analysis team – and some of it also goes live into our web-based user-facing Match Day Centre.
Of course there’s also the data we generate from tracking site usage – english and arabic – and on our social and media presences, twitter, Facebook, youtube and flickr.

Then there are things like Fanvision – which has a major impact on user experience in the US market where getting stats on a game, during a game, creates a remarkable added-entertainment layer to American Football and other sports.

Statos have always been present in sport… celebrated in some, shunned in others, but always present. F1 – motorsport in general – massively data dominated. Cricket has the home of sport data – Wisden. Golf is basically a data-driven sport.

And then there’s our partnership with EA SPORTS for FIFA12. Do EA have any data we could work with, do you think? 3m people bought the console game in the UK last year, 10m worldwide. Over a 100m people have purchased it. And another 8m play the online version of the game every year. And do EA have stats to play with … data you could use as prediction engines… data you could use to entertain? It’s already gearing up to be a fun partnership.

That’s Datatainment

So I’ve gone from data journalism to data entertainment – datatainment.
Is this anything new? perhaps not.
If you define data as pieces of information – then you could argue that quiz shows have been examples of datatainment for years. But you’d be wrong.

I can’t remember who said it – and I’m probably misquoting – but there’s a difference between data, information, knowledge and wisdom. At which point it’s beholden on me to also quote the saying “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.”

Data is less than the information that’s shared or tested in a quiz show. Data is the raw, unadulterated fact. Moulding those facts into stories – like @mattsheret does so well for last.fm in his role as Data Griot (data storyteller) – is data storytelling. Using facts, like the data from the bombing raids over Kosovo in 1998, and plotting them on a map to expose the detail of whether those laser guided missiles actually *were* as consistently accurate as claimed… or the homicide map of New York… or David McCandless’s work through @infobeautiful and the Guardian …  or using spreadsheets and databases to bring up anomalies in MPs expenses… or the other work showcased at Design of Understanding… these are some of the many excellent examples of data journalism. But when it’s not journalism – when it’s used to inform but, primarily, to delight or inspire or to bring someone closer to a subject they love and give them that warm glow of passion and fun… I submit that this is something else. It’s data entertainment. And that’s what I want to bring to football with @MCFC.

Are there other examples? I’m sure of it. And I’d welcome your thoughts on the nuances I’m missing or the examples that prove or disprove the case.

I may not be allowed to return to London – at least not uninjured – after @matlock @jaggeree and @ammonite promised to do me harm if I kept using the datatainment. But I’ve compounded that now so I will just have to bear with the ‘deadarmtainment’ or the ‘chineseburntainment’ that have been promised. I suffer for my art. Actually, speaking of art – the rather lovely @artfinder app for ipad is, well, art and entertainment, isn’t it? what do you think? Arttainment?

—-

John Kearney’s comment below prompted an attempt to clarify my thinking: Defining Data Journalism, Data Visualisation and Data Entertainment.

Manchester Riot: Madness at the Malmaison

10 August, 2011 2 comments

this is a rather stream-of-consciousness report based on my experience of the last 7 hours. apologies for the lack of critical thinking or reflection (or proper punctuation). more of that tomorrow, perhaps.

It’s like looking through reflective glass onto a different world – only it isn’t… it is clear glass and the policeman on the other side of the glass is looking at me with a face that says “for god’s sake, man, what are you doing – get away from the glass and let us get on with the job”. so I do.

There’s a woman in a decollete little black dress and high heals. The fake tan is too much but she’s giving it everything and her date is in awe of the glamour, but it takes just a moment of standing out on the pavement looking for a taxi to realise that they’re not going anywhere this evening… that they’ll be better to head back inside and get a drink.
The Malmaison staff were excellent. keeping a lid on things. behaving as normal. still serving the steak tartare, still taking the orders and taking the soup off the list because it wasn’t to sir’s liking. but there was an underlying tension. the assistant manager had a cool, calm, jovial face. right up to the point where she said “gentlemen, are you staying in the hotel tonight? well then I suggest that you go to your rooms. They’ve just smashed up the Mint Hotel round the corner and they’re coming this way”. We took her advice.

Little Black Dress and her date are oblivious… they’re virtually sitting in the middle of the foyer, locked together by mouth.

Fourth floor viewpoint

But we stopped off on the 4th floor by the lifts to look out over the front of the hotel. Every now and then a group of young men would saunter by. swaggering. confident. cocky. and clearly cold because their hoods are all up. This, I reflected, was the best moment of their young lives – or at least it looked like it was – they owned the streets. maybe this is the only time they’ve owned the city – felt like it was their’s – dominated.

A young, female, mancunian colleague tweets: “@richardayers There are gangs running round here with axes and hockeysticks”. I suddenly feel like sitting and watching it from a fourth floor window is like watching a roman games. I’m a bit embarrassed. I worry about those of us who have spectated – on tv, in person – and how much that builds the desire for these idiots to act. I worry about my colleague. To be clear, I’ve got nothing to worry about – it’s the people who live here, the people whose community is getting smashed up for no good reason who’ve got the trouble.
The two security guards from the Mal stand outside on the street – looking at the groups that walk by. Doing nothing but looking. nervously.

We started at the stadium

At the start of the evening we’d been in the office. It was 6.30 and I was settling in for another evening’s work at City@Home. But the call came from the police and quickly the word spread … “Police advise that we leave the building. They say that there’s been trouble in the centre of town and they’ve blocked it off so the gangs will be heading this way. The Mercedes showroom have removed all the cars from their forecourt and we should just leave now”.

Now, I’ve spent the last 3 days living in a quiet part of Islington – just a mile or two from the centre of the riots in London… and i’ve left my wife, baby and friends down there… and I remember the IRA bombing campaign in the 80s… and I remember the 7/7 bombings and the t-shirt that had a london underground sign with the station name as ‘Still not scared’. So I’m more annoyed than scared. I had a lot of work to do. But it’s sensible to leave and there’s a lift on offer, so I give myself over to the general mood and head out.

Mr Portugal, Mr New York and myself are all dropped off near the Malmaison which is our home for the evening. On our way walking there we come across groups of teens. Sweet looking, non-hoodie wearing, kids. You can tell there’s an excitement. As we pass, I hear one girl say to another ‘you’ve got to be here – just to see it – haven’t you. you’ve just got to, to see what’s going to happen’.

As we came round to the front of the hotel, it was an odd sight. A main street quietened. Police in a line at either end. Some strewn rubbish up the road. A smashed bus stop. The ‘gang’ – or do we call them criminals? ‘horde’? – had just been through. Police were directing us down other roads – but “not through here, sir”.  I can only think to say to the young PC “thanks for all you’re doing. I don’t mean to be patronising, but carry on the good work.” “thank you sir,” he says “enjoy your evening”.

As we stood looking at the officers and the debris, 4 kids cycled into the area on street-versions of mountain-bikes. All 4 between 17 and 20 years old, dark clothing, two of (I’m guessing of course) Somali descent, two with blackberries in hand as they were riding. Nothing unusual so far. What *was* unusual is that they cycled up to where the police stood, circled around, then over to where the debris was, circled around again, then back to where they entered the street and circled once more – checking, looking, assessing, chatting between them… and then there was a decision to move on and they accelerated off back down the side-street where they’d come from.  Now I’m all for encouraging pedal power – and normally I’d say it’s good for the environment – but there was something oddly threatening as these kids were scoping what was going on. It’s all too tempting to get drawn into dramatic analogies, but the movement on the bikes had a sweeping, stealthy and threatening grace to it… it felt like a 4 hawks swooping to check out a field. “Why don’t the police just arrest them?” my colleague asks – and we hear from the hotel assistant manager that the police *have* been taking suspicious people off the streets earlier in the evening, but nonetheless I answer, “What are they going to arrest them for? Cycling with intent?”.

The American I’m with just can’t get over what’s going on. He’s been in the country for 5 days – literally – and it’s blowing his mind. Several times he says “but this just wouldn’t happen in the states. we’d have the navy seals on the street”. I don’t think you would – but i get the point. “we’d have the army. this would have been stamped out right away. what’s stopping the police sorting it out?” His disbelief is palpable, and perhaps even endearing. I try to explain that we have a tradition of not calling the army onto the streets – and caveat that Northern Ireland isn’t a good example. I try to explain that our police often take a more steady approach – intervene if there’s something life-threatening, but otherwise, let it settle of its own accord… and then use the unparalleled cctv coverage in our country to make sure that the right people are prosecuted.

“What caused this?” he asks again and again. … and I don’t have a better answer than, ‘it’s complicated’. Socio-economic reasons – kids frustrations- underclass – disenchantment – criminality – yobbery… even just plain ‘doing it for the hell of it’ – like the tweet that said “It’s like grand theft auto” ..these are all too complex answers and the combination of them and others make it even less fathomable.

I came up to Manchester this morning and tweeted “feels odd to leave my city in the wake of the riots and to be heading to calm Manchester”. Not calm any more. But Little Black Dress and White T-shirt Man don’t care. They’ve taken the blitz-spirit to heart and head to bed. Love, or something, conquers all.
For most of our meal we didn’t really notice the riots outside our hotel. We were talking business, putting the company to rights, ordering the burger and thinking about where my Portuguese and American colleague should live. Sadly, this madness interjects. What a welcome to our country.

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