Next Step in OGD Websites

What DataUsa is doing could be – I guess – the next step in the evolution of Open Government Data websites. It’s the step from offering file downloads to presenting data (and not files) interactively. And it’s a kind of presentation many official statistical websites would surely be proud of.

César A. Hidalgo from MIT discusses the philosophy behind this. More at the end of this post; at first a short look at this website.


Bringing data together

Merging data from different sources may have been the most expensive and challenging task and the conditio sine qua non for the existence of this website. And perhaps it’s more an organizational than a technical challenge.

Seven public data sources are accessible via DataUsa


Presenting data

Adapting to what internauts normally do, the main entrance is a search bar;



Thematical and geographical profiles are available, too. But in a hidden menu.

The presentation of the data is a mix of generated text and various types of graphs.




The option above every graph allows to share, embed, download, get a table and even an API for the data.



And finally thematical maps provide other views and insights:


But the fascinating part is Stories

Various authors write stories focussing on special topics and using the presentation techniques of the site.


A glossary explains technical terms and the About Section presents the authors and their aim:
‘In 2014, Deloitte, Datawheel, and Cesar Hidalgo, Professor at the MIT Media Lab and Director of MacroConnections, came together to embark on an ambitious journey — to understand and visualize the critical issues facing the United States in areas like jobs, skills and education across industry and geography. And, to use this knowledge to inform decision making among executives, policymakers and citizens.’

And this leads to the
Philosophy behind 

César A. Hidalgo, one of the websites’ authors explains why they did what they did in a blog post with the title ‘What’s Wrong with Open-Data Sites–and How We Can Fix Them.’

Here’s the design philosophy in a visual nutshell:



‘Our hope is to make the data shopping experience joyful, instead of maddening, and by doing so increase the ease with which data journalists, analysts, teachers, and students, use public data. Moreover, we have made sure to make all visualizations embeddable, so people can use them to create their own stories, whether they run a personal blog or a major newspaper.’


‘After all, the goal of open data should not be just to open files, but to stimulate our understanding of the systems that this data describes. To get there, however, we have to make sure we don’t forget that design is also part of what’s needed to tame the unwieldy bottoms of the deep web.’



Optimism with Data

What will our future be like? Is there no or some hope that things evolve in a good direction? Will we make progress?

Data play a crucial role in answering these questions.

Steven Pinker (Harvard University, Department of Psychology) in his answer to the EDGE question of 2016 considers that Quantifying Human Progress is the most interesting recent (scientific) news:

But the most interesting news is that the quantification of life has been extended to the biggest question of all: Have we made progress? Have the collective strivings of the human race against entropy and the nastier edges of evolution succeeded in improving the human condition?’

‘Human intuition is a notoriously poor guide to reality. …. But the cognitive and data revolutions warn us not to base our assessment of anything on subjective impressions or cherry-picked incidents. As long as bad things haven’t vanished altogether, there will always be enough to fill the news, and people will intuit that the world is falling apart. The only way to circumvent this illusion is to plot the incidence of good and bad things over time. Most people agree that life is better than death, health better than disease, prosperity better than poverty, knowledge better than ignorance, peace better than war, safety better than violence, freedom better than coercion. That gives us a set of yardsticks by which we can measure whether progress has actually occurred.

The interesting news is that the answer is mostly “yes.” …. Economic historians and development scholars (including Gregory Clark, Angus Deaton, Charles Kenny, and Steven Radelet) have plotted the growth of prosperity in their data-rich books, and the case has been made even more vividly in websites with innovative graphics such as Hans Rosling’s Gapminder, Max Roser’s Our World in Data, and Marian Tupy’s HumanProgress.’

What may be true for the world must not be true for the individuals.
Let’s have a look at these mostly well-known data sites:

Max Roser: Our World in Data

‘Max Roser is the founder of OurWorldInData. He is an economist working at the University of Oxford. His background is in economics, geoscience and philosophy. His research is focusing on the long-term growth and distribution of living standards.’

‘On my website I am presenting the long-term data on how we are changing our world. The idea is to tell the history of our present world – based on empirical data and visualised in graphs.’


‘Most of the long-run trends are positive and paint an optimistic view of our world. Topic by topic, the empirical view of our world shows how the Enlightenment continues to make our world a better place. It chronicles how we are becoming less violent and increasingly more tolerant. The data displays how new ideas continue to improve living standards, allowing us to live a healthier, richer and happier life. It is the story of declining poverty and better food provision in a world we care about.

The empirical view on our world shows how misplaced doom and defeatism is and my aim is to encourage those who work to make our world a better place still. At the same time my hope is also to help to change the mind of those of you who do not think that we are creating a better world. By looking at the empirical data I want to explain why I am optimistic about how we are changing our world and why I think it is worthwhile to engage in the global long-term project of Enlightenment. Although most trends are clearly going in the right direction I also show where this is not the case. In a world of hysteria we cannot focus on what is important, but a fact based view on our world should help us to focus on the topics that are most important.’



Human Progress’ mission statement (

‘Evidence from academic institutions and international organizations shows dramatic improvements in human well-being. These improvements are especially striking in the developing world.
Unfortunately, there is often a wide gap between the reality and public perception, including that of many policymakers, scholars in unrelated fields, and intelligent lay persons. To make matters worse, the media emphasizes bad news, while ignoring many positive long-term trends.

We hope to help in correcting misperceptions regarding the state of humanity through the presentation of empirical data that focuses on long-term developments. All of our wide-ranging data comes from third parties, including the World Bank, the OECD, the Eurostat, and the United Nations. By putting together this comprehensive data in an accessible way, our goal is to provide a useful resource for scholars, journalists, students, and the general public.

While we think that policies and institutions compatible with freedom and openness are important factors in promoting human progress, we let the evidence speak for itself. We hope that this website leads to a greater appreciation of the improving state of the world and stimulates an intelligent debate on the drivers of human progress.

Note: is a project of the Cato Institute with major support from the John Templeton Foundation, the Searle Freedom Trust, the Brinson Foundation and the Dian Graves Owen Foundation.’

Some data:



And here is top-star Hans Rosling with his where he deconstructs misleading, ’60-years-behind-reality’ opinions with data.

An example: Hans Rosling asks: Has the UN gone mad?

‘The United Nations just announced their boldest goal ever: To eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, already by 2030.
Looking at the realities of extremely poor people the goal seems impossible. The rains didn’t fall in Malawi this year. The poor farmers Dunstar & Jenet, gather a tiny maize harvest in a small pile on the ground outside their mud hut. But Dunstar & Jenet know exactly what they need to break the vicious circle of poverty. And Hans Rosling shows how billions of people have already managed. This year’s “hunger season” may very well be Dunster’s & Jenet’s last.
Up-to-date statistics show that recent global progress is ‘the greatest story of our time – possibly the greatest story in all of human history. The goal seems unrealistic to many highly educated people because their worldview is lagging 60 years behind reality.’




A focussed view: OXFAM’s new study

‘An Economy for the 1%

 Runaway inequality has created a world where 62 people own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population – a figure that has fallen from 388 just five years ago, according to an Oxfam report published on January 18th.
How pivilege and power in the economy drive extreme inequality and how this can  be stopped. The global inequality crisis is reaching new extremes.The richest 1%now have more wealth than the rest of the world combined.
Power and privilege is being used to skew the economic system to increase the gap between the richest and the rest. A global network of tax havens further enables the richest individuals to hide $7.6 trillion.’ -> Methodology
OXFAM’s conclusion:
‘The fight against poverty will not be won until the inequality crisis is tackled.’

Income distribution. Data on Max Roser

‘A lesson that that we can take away from this empirical research is that political forces at work on the national level are possibly important for how incomes are distributed. If there was a universal trend towards more inequality it would be in line with the notion that inequality is determined by global market forces and technological progress where it is very hard (or for other reasons undesirable) to change the forces that lead to higher inequality. Inequality would then be inevitable. The reality of different inequality trends within countries suggests that the institutional and political framework in different countries play a role in shaping inequality of incomes.’





In Love with Data

An amazing, year-long, analog data drawing project made by two women: Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec.

‘Each week we collect and measure a particular type of data about our lives, use this data to make a drawing on a postcard-sized sheet of paper, and then drop the postcard in an English “postbox” (Stefanie) or an American “mailbox” (Giorgia)!’

An example: Week 14 by Stefanie



About the project

‘The process:
Every week we choose a topic we want to explore about our days and lives, and on Monday start our separate-but-parallel data collection.

The data-collecting ends the evening of the following Sunday, and through the course of the following week we analyse our data and draw our postcard, all the while collecting the next dataset.

On Monday we scan and drop our data postcard into the mailbox/postbox and start to plan the next week’s drawing!

The postcards:
The data drawing is shown on the front of the postcard, while the back always includes a “how to read it” key to enable the other to understand the data collection and insight behind the drawing.’

The Book



‘The book explores the role that data plays in our lives and originates from a correspondence between the two authors – both data visualisation artists who met at a data conference and chose to keep in touch by sending weekly postcards composed of data visualisations in place of words. The result is described as “a thought-provoking visual feast”.’

Next: Dear Data two

Data two ‘project was inspired by, a wonderful collaboration between Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec. We (Jeffrey Shaffer and Andy Kriebel) decided to follow in their footsteps and coincidentally, Andy recently moved from California to London, England.’

Look at the Elections

18 October 2015

On October 18, 2015, Swiss voters elect a new Parliament for the next four years.


More about Swiss elections here

For the National Council (200 members), 3,802 candidates and more than 22 political parties take part.

And the winners are …

The polling stations closed at 12 AM. The results arrive canton by canton and are presented in an interactive visualisation – minute by minute.


Results as of 5 PM

By clicking one of the symbols, the details for a canton appear.


The results are updated in a database, and a script generates a visualisation on the spot. An easy way to follow the elections!

It’s the Statistical Atlas of the Federal Statistical Office that enables this presentation. And it’s no longer Adobe Flash needed to do it😉.

For a fact-based Worldview


Hans Rosling, co-founder and promoter of the Gapminder Foundation and of fights with statistics against myths (‘Our goal is to replace devastating myths with a fact-based worldview.’) and tries to counterbalance media focussing on war, conflicts and chaos.

Here one more example (and this in a media interview…): ‘You can’t use media if you want to understand the world’ (sic!)

And this statement on; ‘Statistical facts don’t come to people naturally. Quite the opposite. Most people understand the world by generalizing personal experiences which are very biased. In the media the “news-worthy” events exaggerate the unusual and put the focus on swift changes. Slow and steady changes in major trends don’t get much attention. Unintentionally, people end-up carrying around a sack of outdated facts that you got in school (including knowledge that often was outdated when acquired in school).’



Elections, visual


On October 18, 2015 Swiss voters will elect a new Parliament for the next four years. There are some very useful and also beautiful visual tools that help voters to get informed about developments in the political landscape and about candidates.


Background: The Swiss Political System

2015-10-02_parliamentThe full picture of Switzerland’s political institutions and executive authorities can be found in a yearly updated official brochure (the page above is part of it)

2015-10-02_parliamentcoverSee also the Official Website (Federal elections of 18 October 2015) and:

The website of the Federal Statistical Office (FSO), FSO topic: elections (German and French only)




Let’s have a look at some of these visual and interactive tools.


Find Your Candidates

With interactive tools, one answers questions to define one’s position on the political spectrum and to generate suggestions for candidates to vote for.

Tools from smartvote or vimentis exist for the National Council (200 members and 3,802 candidates) and the Council of States (46 members and 161 candidates).

For smartvote about 80 to 90 percent of the candidates have filled in a questionnaire.

2015-10-02_smartvoteThis questionnaire helps defining their political profile, a smartspider.

‘The smartspider presents a political profile based on the agreement about eight topics/aims. A value of 100 represents a strong agreement, a value of 0 a strong disagreement.’

2015-10-02_candidateIn answering the same questionnaire a voter defines his one profile that is matched with the candidates’. In the end, he gets his own smartspider and suggestions for candidates in his constituency. The more questions a voter answers, the more precise his voting advice will be.


Political Shift in Communes 1981 to 2014 – year by year

Lean Swiss communes more towards the left or the right, are they more conservative or progressive?

‘Based on the result of every single popular vote since 1983. The Somoto Research Institute together with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC,’s parent company) has used the data to find this out.’ A quite complex interactive visualisation depicts this for types of communes and every single commune.




Party Preferences in the Communes

11 elections (1971 to 2011) for the Swiss National Council show how 2345 communes changed their political preferences during these 40 years. The  SRF Data Team (@srfdata) created a visualisation out of tons of data (in German only)

2015-10-02_GEMEINDENAfter selecting a political party and a commune the map of Switzerland shows how this commune changed its attitude towards the chosen party. Hovering over the map gives the facts of all other communes for the chosen party.

2015-10-02_GEMEINDEN-POSCHIAVO timeline Great!


Interactive Political Atlas

And not to forget the very rich interactive Political Atlas presented by the Swiss Federal Statistical Office (FSO).

Elections to the National Council can be found from 1919 (!) to today. And also votations about innumerable topics are shown starting 1866 (!!). Have a look (with flash enabled).



And not enough yet

How did national counselors vote in parliament? (in German, by SRF Data)


Do you like a Quiz … and learn about Swiss political parties?

How well do you know Swiss politics? (by SRF Data)


Forgotten something? Sure! There is so much activity in the visualisation scene in Switzerland …