Keep data simple: Google

By Pat Carmody

Data visualisation is the future of digital reporting and will give journalists a tool to communicate more useful and interesting stories, according to Google software engineer Anthony Baxter.

Speaking at the 2013 Future Forum, Mr Baxter revealed the key to Google’s enormous success as a digital information provider was to provide data in its most simple form.

“You want to make it easy for people to find out what is going on,” Mr Baxter said.

“If you actually make the data available in a usable way they can find out more about the story than perhaps you have time to tell them about.”

Google has been doing so for years, combining data aggregation and Google Maps to tremendous success, particularly during natural disasters.

As Hurricane Sandy battered the east coast of the US in 2012, Google compiled publicly available imaging of the super storm and published it on a map, in real time.

This map became the primary source for news agencies tracking Sandy’s progress.

“When we had imagery of Staten Island up it was the first time anyone had seen what had happened because there had been almost no media coverage up to that point,” Mr Baxter said.

“This stuff is huge and important. And we share this information.”

A vast amount of Google data apps’ visits come from online sharing. Producing quality, relevant content publicises itself through social networks.

Far from only useful in natural disaster situations, data visualisation could bring a greater degree of relevancy to almost all online news stories.

Mr Baxter used a story on a proposed tunnel in Melbourne to illustrate.

“The report [on the tunnel] was full of maps. Why weren’t these online, in the news story?” he said.

“Yes the maps were terrible but it’s actually pretty easy to open a free map tool and copy the information in. Let people to see it for themselves.”

The most successful news agencies in the new media environment are those creating the most interesting content in the eyes of their audience.

If Google’s hit counters are anything to go off, augmenting traditional storytelling with effective data visualisation is how journalists can do it.

Pat Carmody is a third year journalism student with Charles Sturt University

Leave a comment