Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Decoding the Internet's Raw Data

Government data sets available for citizens to use...

The massive amounts of data available on the Internet potentially have infinite uses. For example, advertisers want to mine photos and status updates on social networks to better sell products, while scientists are tracking weather patterns using decades of climate records. Now, U.S. White House officials want to make government data available to the public so citizens can monitor government actions.

The problem is determining how to organize and display such a massive amount of data without having to sift through volumes of spreadsheets. Participants at the recent symposium at the University of Maryland's Human-Computer Interaction Lab focused on solving this problem. "We're trying to understand data and make sense of it visually, but there's no way of evaluating how effective these visuals really are for people," says PricewaterhouseCoopers research manager Mave Houston. Analysts from the U.S. Department of Defense, SAIC, and Lockheed Martin expressed their frustrations with available information visualization tools, which are too complex for novice users, frequently do not work well with user-generated content, and have difficulty handling large amounts of data.

The Human-Computer Interaction Lab is working on ways of linking information, creating user-friendly technology devices, and improving how people interact with the Web. "Our belief is that technology is not just useful as toys or for business," says lab founder Ben Shneiderman. "We're talking about using these technologies for national priorities."

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