Weird and wonderful uses for open data – visualising 250 million protests and mapping electoral preferences

One of the interesting aspects about open data is how creatively it can be used to generate new insights, identify patterns and make information easier to absorb.

Yesterday I encountered two separate visualisations, designed on opposite sides of the world, which illustrated this creativity in very different ways.

First was the animated visualisation of 250 million protests across the world from 1979 to 2013 (see below).

Based on Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone (GDELT) data, John Beieler, a Penn State doctoral candidate, has created a visual feast that busts myths about the decline in physical protests as people move online and exposes the rising concerns people have around the world.

Imagine further encoding this data by protest topic and displaying trends of popular issues in different countries or states, or looking at the locations of protests in more detail to identify ‘hot spots’ – in fact John has done part of this work already, as can be read about in his blog (

Second is the splendid Senate preferences map for the 2013 Australian Government election, developed by Peter Neish from Melbourne.

Developed again from public information, this is the first time I have ever seen a map detailing the flow of preferences between political parties, and it illustrates some very interesting patterns.

The image below is of NSW Senate candidates, and thus is the most complex of the states, but shows how this type of information can be visualised in ways never before possible by citizens without the involvement of traditional media or large organisations.

For visualisations of all states and territories, visit Peter’s site at

These types of open data visualisation lend themselves to a change in the way the community communicates and offer both an opportunity and a threat to established interests.
Governments and other organisations who grasp the power of data visualisation will be able to cut through much of the chatter and complexity of data to communicate more clearly to the community, whereas agencies and companies who hang back, using complex text and tables, will increasingly find themselves gazumped by those able to present their stories in more visual and understandable forms.
We’re beginning to see some government agencies make good use of visualisations and animation, I hope in the near future that more will consider using more than words to convey meaning.

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