It was just a matter of time until someone realized that Facebook is a treasure trove of psycho-social data. When people are active on Facebook, liking this and that, it can create a pretty interesting picture of a person’s personality. With each press of the Like button, I’m aware that I’m contributing to a highly revealing database of my predilections – my political leanings, my consumer interests, and what kind of news stories grab my attention.
WolframAlpha was one of the first to offer a social analytics tool for regular folk to mine their own data, but it mostly provides summary statistics. Now, real scientists from the University of Cambridge have uncovered deeper and more meaningful conclusions from a person’s Likes. I was pretty surprised at how accurate their tool was for me. Try it out for yourself.
You would think that based on my posts that the world of serious data visualization (which excludes cutesy infographics) is all about mapping metadata. Here’s yet another example that this might really be the trend: Like the Average Commute Times project, Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks uses public data from the U.S. Census American Community Survey to map median household incomes per census tract. Thanks to this simple tool, it’ll be a lot easier to convince my wife to get a job when she sees that we make less than our neighbors.
A glance alone at this data visualization project is enough to elicit a jaw-dropping “wow”. Based on public data from the 2006-2011 U.S. Census American Community Survey, the interactive map gives you average commute times for every zip code in the United States. My home, the greater Los Angeles area, is bad, of course, but less urban centers in the Midwest, like northeast Arizona and northwest New Mexico, have average commute times of up to an hour!
Data science and analysis is fascinating because it provides the tools to describe the world around us in a measurable way. The other reason the field is so appealing to me is its power to shed light on the injustices and inequalities that continue to plague us – something that many of us already know but don’t realize to what degree.
A video called Wealth Inequality in America provides a startling look at the huge disparity between the haves and everyone else.
Of course, like a good “liberal”, the creators of the video have provided links to source references:
- It’s the Inequality, Stupid [Mother Jones, March/April 2011 issue]
- Building a Better America: One Wealth Quintile at a Time [Dan Ariely & Mike Norton, Jan. 2011]
- How Unequal We Are: The Top 5 Facts You Should Know About The Wealthiest One Percent Of Americans [Think Progress, Oct.3, 2011]
- CEO pay is 380 times average worker’s – AFL-CIO [CNN Money, April 19, 2012]