Well, open data is really interesting in maps. (I like to think so, anyway.) And Open Data maps are common – they’re immediately recognizable, and if done well, instantly useful. But they are not always appropriate or best-suited to the task at hand. Rest assured, there are many other visuals to help explain Open Data.
Take, for example, the Migration & Economics Relationship Explorer from Global Economic Dynamics and 9elements. This powerful tool opens right in your web browser, for maximum convenience. It lets users interactively assess Open Data on immigration and emigration collected from 46 countries over the years 2000-2010.
In the above example, each blue bar is a country. Dark blue = stuff leaving the country, and Light blue = stuff entering it. Depending on the filter chosen, each grey connecting line shows either migration or bank claims between two countries. (Take a look at the amount China exports to the USA, by far the fattest line in the picture.) For even more specific analyses, you can add to the mix any of several statistical indicators. Here, the grey dots beside each blue bar shows that country’s GDP.
You can get even more comparison by saving multiple searches (in this example, the right hand bar shows three saved searches). You can track, for example, merchandise trade for the 2009/2010 calendar years, or specifically between China and the EU.
So, who cares? Well, in this case, any nonprofit analyzing trends in immigration, tracking new residents, or assessing settlement services might need this kind of information to track past and future trends. When they find visuals that are helpful, they can even export a variety of summary reports for grant applications or program assessments.
This kind of flexibility is perhaps Open Data’s greatest strength. Rather than just static maps, visualization tools attached to Open Data can emphasize different connections, or countries, or historical moments, making fluid shifts of focus easier to spot and track over time – without starting from scratch.
Like a Swiss Army Knife, Open Data would be useful for any one thing it can do; but what makes it such an essential tool is the vast number of different shapes it can take, to help with so many different tasks at hand.