From the start, we went out of our way to enlist the participation of groups and businesses for the BuzzData beta — after all, BuzzData is all about improving group collaboration around data, right?
Having said that, bringing businesses on board at the beta stage, let alone post-commercial launch, is no small feat for a funky, outside-the-box app like BuzzData. The concept of open data is still relatively new, and simple workflow tools for data wrangling and sharing are rare. Finding organizations that were hip to the movement and up for trying a new, untested digital app was a fun challenge, needless to say.
Lucky for us, a small number of influential, forward-thinking organizations came forward to test the beta right at from start, including:
And while the beta’s only been active less than a week, we’ve already witnessed instances of unscripted cross-pollination between media, government and data-literate citizens. This is hugely exciting to us.
The Globe and Mail’s account in particular, hosted by Toronto Hacks/Hackers organizer and Globe mobile editor Mason Wright, has been off to a promising start, largely because Wright clearly gets the give/take aspect of social networking, posting Globe articles to other users’ data and making an effort to put the Globe’s data in context with accompanying articles and visualizations.
It’s fascinating to watch this happen in the context of data. We’re so used to static catalogues and repositories that appear to move at a glacial pace. In contrast, on BuzzData you tell a user something — whether it’s your best friend or a national newspaper — and they talk back to you as a visible, dynamic, listening entity, a single degree of separation away. Not a new phenomenon to social media, certainly, but a refreshing change of pace for data communication.
As an example, last week the Globe uploaded food price indices data as an accompaniment to a recent Report on Business article. The article itself focused on short-term food prices, but New York-based beta tester David Joerg took the data and, by simply plotting the data over time in Excel, uncovered a startling spike in sugar prices no one had yet noticed:
Even Wright was surprised to see this. So the question remains: what’s driving the price inflation of sugar? Perhaps Joerg’s cursory data-viz will trigger an entirely new business investigation by the Globe in the near future. That would be incredibly cool, and a truly unique example of collaborative data journalism — one that, in an instant, transcended national boundaries and professional disciplines.
Not bad for the first five days of a beta.