Soon after the day continued with the Topic Stream #10, Data Journalism and Visualization. As every day, other topics are developed elsewhere at the same time, in a particularly rich and multifaceted programme. The subject naturally followed Farida´s introduction, with the well-known case study Reading the Riots on Twitter and the questions it left open:

“Who is and can be a journalist” in the era of Twitter? “Is Twitter open data?”

Data journalism is about “working across boundaries, sharing knowledge and skills, and we only begin to unlock its potential” (Farida Vis)

Simon Rogers, from the Guardian Datastore and Datablog, outlined a short and effective history of open data: as far as 1821, “six years before the introduction of compulsory education in the UK, the Manchester newspaper published the names and addresses of the schools of the town”, a respectably long “tradition of making data available”. This unfortunately “does not automatically makes a society more democratic, as in the case in Saudi Arabia”, where a certain amount of public data are online.

In the best British journalistic tradition “Facts are sacred”, and, as James Cameron said “It was long ago in my life as a simple reporter that I decided that facts must never get in the way of truth“.

What does a data journalist do? And a simple journalist? Both “investigate, research, write and report, engage, reveal and expose“.

Pro arte utili

Data journalism may also produce interesting data, under the form of interactive polls, collecting personal data: Poverty Line was a research conducted by The Guardian, investigating poverty rates in the UK.

Easily available online tools make nowadays journalism possible for everybody.

The last part of Rogers´relation was dedicated to the London Olympics, a challenge for the data journalism team: many infographic were produced, from the Olympics spending map, where one could clearly see where public and private money went, to Alternative medal table interactive, where the reader could choose among many sorting ways, from Team size to Population, to State vs private schools and so on. Many less evident aspects of the event were investigated this way.

“Do what you do best and link to the rest” is Jeff Jarvis’ motto for newsrooms: “to reorient newsrooms from a resource-rich, monopoly distribution approach to reporting, where a newsroom could reasonably aim to do it all themselves, to a resource-constrained, networked media reality, where newsrooms must focus on original reporting that matters most”, often with low costs.

All along the day Twitter provided a second dimension, under the hashtag #okddj. Unfortunately, every time a speaker asked the audience a question, I missed it, attention has its limits – a loss, addressing the audience directly is always a valuable way of keeping the communication alive. On the other hand some tweets clarified or amplified what the person was saying, adding useful information.

In any case here you can read the story of the day in tweets, collected and put online in a few hours´ space.

The great day has come, after nine months of intensive sketching and organizing, the Open Knowledge Festival opened today in Helsinki, at the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture. Since the very first moment one could sense the warm and open atmosphere, a bunch of young enthusiasts welcoming the visitors with a smile (not such a common event at these latitudes!)

Everything was OK, from the design of the scenography to the original badges, cut out in wood or coloured plastic, a creation of the Helsinki Fablab of Aalto Media Factory and Massimo Menichinelli.

The first Plenary Session was attended with tangible emotion by a varied international audience, which naturally melt with Aalto University population, already multicultural at the origin: young and less young experts and open data enthusiasts from Europe, U.S.A. and every corner of the world.

Before the opening

A multilayered hi-tech experience: not only the presentations are reproduced in live streaming, but it is possible to comment what is said onstage in an open instant chat (active during morning sessions): both people physically and virtually present can interact with the event. A few subjects and questions are selected and proposed to the speakers. And many of us reacted on Twitter at the same time: a fun experience, which nevertheless makes one wonder about what it means nowadays to listen and to communicate, in an era where we can´t anymore simply talk to each other, but need screens both for illustrating our ideas and receiving them. Anyway the atmosphere was relaxed and elated, and technology undoubtedly allowed us to express the emotion to be part of an uncommon event.

Internationally well known speakers inspired the audience with a few words about open data: “the challenge is how to use open information to solve the issues we have in front of us: the challenge is not in data availability, but in the use we do of it” (Rufus Pollock)

“Technology is a tool: policy wonks meet tech geeks”; “reach citizens directly, prioritise the needs of the users”, “give people access, select what is relevant to them”; technology enables “to collect essential medicines via SMS in Kenya, Malawi, Uganda and Zambia” (Martin Tisné)

“Collecting useful data, as allotment data” means to investigate “what people care about, such as growing their own vegetables”. Possibility put in discussion “in spring 2011, with the threat to the UK Allotment Act (1908!), followed by an overwhelming popular response” (Farida Vis)

The following day was dedicated mainly to cook, in a truely professional large kitchen, Aromi. We anyway divided ourselves between our computers, to check out the last data, and the kitchen. Shortly after it was time for presentations, carefully documented in photos and videos. A fast, almost immediate passage between reality and its virtual duplicate!

In the process some aspects had to be abandoned, for both lack of time and need to reasonably limit the research and make communication and visualization possible: I had to drop the hypothesis about the decrease of energy consumption, as a complex element which would need further investigations (in some cases no clear decrease is registered, even though the industrial production diminishes). Also the idea of saunas lay on the ground, with the puzzling question of how many they actually are in Finland (waiting to be answered in the next project!) The two aspects were eventually linked, in the case that sauna were used for both cooking fish and personal hygiene, with a reduction of energy consumption.

The task of the day was much more visual-oriented than I expected, as someone used to express mainly in sound and words. It was nevertheless extremely interesting to try to change perspective, to consider a totally different approach. Finally the composition of the dish was a pleasantly silent moment, voiding the mind from the strict data comparisons.

In this respect the idea of the workshop was really good: cooking food is putting one´s hands back into the real world and one´s feet on the ground, after all the hypothesis and speculations arisen from the data. And the task, using data (as any other abstract material) to generate something utterly concrete and physically enjoyable, was a meaningful one. As it often happens, more ideas came after everything was over, such as visualizing in the dish the dimensions of the three factories considered (from Western Finland, Ostrobothnia and Lapland), the relations between number of employed/unemployed people, the impact of the loss of the factories on the regions (more dramatic in less industrialized areas, as in Kemijärvi, Lapland), and so on.

The tasting was another nice social moment, in certain cases a challenge – not always amazingly visually presented food tastes as one would expect. The most éclatant case was Rossana´s cocktails, a study about suicide rates in Finland, Germany and Italy, where the proportions of alcoholic drinks depended on the most consumed ones in the three countries. In general the dishes were really tasty and colourfully multicultural, and finally even the cocktails found their estimators! Check out here for the final results.

The moment implied the rapid destruction of the works, in a merry mixture of creativity and destruction – a mark of the transiency of life. In this I feel much less pessimistic than Bauman[1], who complains that nowadays works of art are not thought any more to last, but to be rapidly consumed, as everything else. If this may be partly true, on the other hand using perishable or recycled materials goes on the contrary in a more natural direction, dropping the Romantic idea of art as eternal. As the ancients said, panta rhei (everything flows). A wiseness also Oriental philosophies teach us again. Without necessarily attaching to this natural phenomenon a negative sense.

[1] Z.Bauman, op.cit., p. 186

The OKFestival, which is bound to be a success, with its 800 tickets per day sold out, opened last weekend with a tasty “satellite event”, the Open Data Cooking Workshop. An idea of Pixelache and Berlin Prozessagenten, the workshop has drawn together a varied bunch of people: we were asked to bring a favourite, meaningful ingredient, with some cultural or affective importance.

Ingredients Table

And to choose a field of open data interest, among the many options collected by our open data magician, Miska Knapek: from environmental data, such as the levels of radioactivity still present in Finland after Chernobyl (1986), to energy consumption; crime statistics, social housing, elections and so on, from the 15 topics of the Statistical Yearbook of Helsinki 2011, and many more. Mostly local data, from Helsinki and its region, but also from Finland at large, with wide possibilities to put them in comparison and/or in contrast with similar/different situations in the world. Something Moritz Stefaner (one of our hosts, with Susanne Jaschko) considers the main point: find out something unexpected from the initial hypothesis. Something which makes us reflect about aspects of reality we didn´t know or considered much less crucial.

What does this all to do with food culture? The local approach is one of the keys. What is the relation between what we eat and our habitat, food and society? Here some reference projects.

All this was yet even more about visualizing data with food: exploiting the coulours, textures, temperatures and so on to refer to sets of data, ranging from suicide rates in Finland to the quantity of city rabbits populating green areas in the centre of Helsinki.

The brainstorming continued during the lunch pause, which saw us sit around an old wooden table, with a countryside touch: making concrete the ideas of togetherness and “open collaborative society in a global village” of which spoke Miska during the introduction. The global village was well represented, with people from Russia, U.S.A., Hungary, Italy, France, Greek, Denmark, Finland… hope not to forget anybody!

After lunch we continued in a playful way, we were asked to draw lots from a bunch of subjects and ingredients and put them in connection to get more ideas about the project to realize.

Brainstorming Table

Here we got fundamental help from Antti Nurkka, our culinary expert, and Miska and Moritz, in quality of data wranglers. It was fun to learn something about both subjects, cuisine and data! Quite a surprise to discover, beyond the classical four basic tastes (sweet, sour, acid and salt), a fifth one, umami, the new magic word of nowadays cuisine (actually about one century old but coming known at large much more recently).

Looking for a sense through the hazardous, sometimes pretty absurd combinations we got, was quite a compositional game (not far from an artist´s path during the realization of a project): this mostly drew us to consider totally different subjects from what we initially were interested in. From the nuclear pollution start idea, I began to work about deindustrialization in certain areas of Finland, where the closure of traditional factories, such as the paper productions, has caused large unemployment, with subsequent empoverishment and possible rise of crime rates and sense of insecurity. And it didn´t end here: I was asked to consider also the number of saunas! Quite impredictable data, I bet they are countless and most of the owners wouldn´t be keen to reveal their locations (a quite private and “sacred” affair for a Finn).

This made me think about the possible diminution in energy consumption in these areas: while having dramatic consequences when it happens, deindustrialization may also be an opportunity to reconsider the virtually endless productivity growth we live in. Making us remember that limits exist, enhance us to take more individual responsability on our environmental impact (from having less learning to need less, consume less and so on).


Welcome onboard, this is going to be an (almost) daily journey to discover what “open” means, in the many senses this magic word can assume.

From the Open Knowledge Foundation webpage, the main organizer with a tenth of other open movements of the first Open Knowledge Festival (Helsinki 17.-22.9., also in streaming/video), it reads that “a work (music, films, books, but also scientific, historical, geographical data) is open if its manner of distribution satisfies certain conditions, among which: free accessibility, redistribution (no copyright restrictions), possibility for anyone to reuse it, open data format, no discrimination against persons or groups, no restriction of endeavour (business, genetic research or any other possible field)”.

Open philosophy and action involve many fields of human activities: information technology makes available huge masses of data, “released by governments, local authorities, agencies, or any combination of them – even across national borders” (Data Driven Journalism).

Open data looks like one more flood of information, as we daily experience in this complex and “liquid” (sorry Bauman again!) world. What can this be of any use to ordinary mortals?

Lists of “budgets, timetables, costs, crimes, births, deaths” and so on, if filtered and compared may be useful to understand ” How much does the army get if you compare it to health services?” (We Love Open Data)

Or simply, if cities open up their public transport data, citizens may easily figure out which is the fastest bus itinerary to a certain place (or the fastest cycling route! As it is the case in Helsinki since this spring).

Open data may also enhance transparency, “shed light on intra-governmental processes, raise awareness, incite discussions about government decisions, and improve the level of public discourse” (Open data in action). Some wonder would such a case as ILVA in Taranto (Corriere 15.8. 2012) have arisen if risk and pollution data had been transparently available? (Ernesto Belisario)

Open data seems to be journalism´s new frontier: not only a possibility to enrich reports with often beautiful statistically based data visualizations, but also bring to the front not generally reported issues, such as Milwaukee´s area child mortality (surprisingly high, the article also investigates why and for what causes, JSOnline Data Journalism Awards candidate). Or show how many journalists have been in Afghanistan in the last two years and in which areas (Violece Against Journalists in Afghanistan). Or show in real time how many Syrian officials, politicians and diplomats have fled abroad up to now (Tracking Syria´s Defections).

Environmental data, such as those collected by ARPA are crucial to build a green consciousness and improve the quality of life. Being free to reuse a shared knowledge is a parallel to recycle a material, what needs to be done more and more if we don´t want to be drowned in waste.

In Open Design sustainability is a central issue. More on this in next posts!

Check out the OKFestival Topic Streams to get an idea of what is happening. Countless subjects may be approached in this way!

Alla scoperta dell´Open Knowledge

Benvenuti a bordo, questo sarà un viaggio quotidiano (o quasi) alla scoperta del mondo open e dei tanti significati che questa parola magica può assumere.

Dalle pagine web della Open Knowledge Foundation (il maggior organizzatore dell´evento di settembre, insieme con una decina di movimenti open) si legge che un´opera (musica, film, libri ma anche dati scientifici, storici o geografici) è open se le sue modalità di diffusione soddisfano certi criteri, tra cui: libero accesso, redistribuzione (senza restrizioni di copyright), possibilità per chiunque di riutilizzarla, formato open data, nessuna discriminazione verso gruppi o persone, nessuna restrizione di utilizzo (dal business alla ricerca genetica, nessun campo escluso).

La filosofia e l´azione open includono molti settori delle attività umane: l´informatica permette di avere accesso a enormi masse di dati, “rilasciati da governi, autorità locali, enti governativi e non – anche oltre i confini nazionali” (Data Driven Journalism).

L´open data ha tutta l´aria di essere un altro fiume di informazioni, che si aggiunge a quello che quotidianamente ci sommerge in questo mondo complesso e “liquido” (Bauman ha colpito ancora!) Di che utilità tutto ciò può essere a noi comuni mortali?

Liste di “bilanci, orari, spese, crimini, nascite, morti” e così via, opportunamente filtrate e messe a confronto tra loro, possono aiutarci a capire “quanto va all´esercito e quanto alla spesa sanitaria” (We Love Open Data). O semplicemente, se una città diffonde i dati dei trasporti pubblici, il comune cittadino può calcolare in un attimo qual è l´itinerario più rapido per raggiungere un certo posto e con quali mezzi pubblici (o persino con che pista ciclabile, com´è possibile fare a Helsinki da qualche mese a questa parte).

L´open data può anche aumentare il grado di trasparenza negli affari pubblici, “far luce sui processi intergovernativi”, aumentare la consapevolezza dei cittadini, stimolare la discussione sulle decisioni dei governi e innalzare il livello del dibattito pubblico” (Open data in action). C`è chi si chiede se un caso come quello dell´ILVA di Taranto (Corriere 15.8. 2012) si sarebbe mai verificato se i dati sui rischi ambientali e l´inquinamento fossero stati resi pubblici fin dall´inizio (Ernesto Belisario).

L´open data pare che sia la nuova frontiera del giornalismo: non solo per la possibilità di completare i reportage con ricche visualizzazioni di dati statistici, spesso esteticamente attraenti, ma soprattutto per l´opportunità di portare all´attenzione generale argomenti spesso trascurati, come ad esempio il tasso di mortalità infantile nel distretto di Milwaukee (sorprendentemente alto, e questo articolo, candidato al Data Journalism Awards ci racconta quanto e per quali cause: JSOnline). Possiamo venire a sapere in tempo reale quanti e quali politici, ufficiali o diplomatici siriani hanno deciso di andarsene all´estero fino a questo momento (Tracking Syria´s Defections).

I dati ambientali, come quelli raccolti dall´ ARPA, possono contribuire a creare una coscienza ambientale e a migliorare la qualità della vita. Poter riutilizzare un materiale intellettuale è un gesto equivalente al riciclo di qualunque altro materiale, un gesto che diventa ogni giorno più indispensabile, se non vogliamo soccombere a una massa di rifiuti. La sostenibilità è al centro dell´ Open Design. Ma per questo vi rimando alle prossime puntate!

Nel frattempo date un´occhiata alla lista di argomenti (Topic Streams)  dell´OKFestival: gli argomenti che si possono avvicinare da questo punto di vista sono davvero tanti!

Though, as Zygmunt Bauman writes, “there are on the web already 50 millions blogs (listed in 2006) and other 175.000 are created every day”[1], here there is one more: just for the need to translate, in the broadest sense possible, what happens in this part of Europe, to build bridges between this local reality and other regions of this continent, that I feel as my country.

After more than 10 years in Helsinki, I experienced that many kind of translations are needed to make different cultures communicate and mutually enrich each other: languages, gestures, attitudes, sensitivities, point of views, we need to put in action countless kinds of translations to undertake this fascinating and risky journey which is to face the other one.

And, if something is needed, it is openness.The autumnlookspromisingin this respect: the Open Knowledge Festival will take place in Helsinki from 17th to 22nd of September. A week of conferences, workshops, meetings, peer-to-peer learning, people from all over the world gathering at the Aalto University and hereabouts. With the enthusiasm to put technology and innovation at the service of the society. Re-create a sense of community, so often lost in our hectic lives, connect local and global communities, enhance collaboration (“do it with others”), in a word give oneself a chance to make this world more inhabitable and human than what we know.

Without forgetting that “technology would not advance ´democracy and human rights´ for (and instead of) you”. Persons need to be there, individuals who let themselves be personally involved in the process of change.

Gettare ponti

Sebbene, come scrive Zygmunt Bauman, siano stati contati sul web nel solo 2006 “50 milioni di blog”, e ne spuntino mediamente “175.000 al giorno”, eccomi qua: quello che mi spinge a scrivere è il desiderio di tradurre, nel più largo senso possibile, quello che vedo accadere in questa parte del Nord Europa, di creare ponti tra questa realtà locale e altre regioni di questo continente, che sento come il mio vero paese.

Dopo più di 10 anni a Helsinki, mi rendo conto che sono necessari molti tipi di traduzione per rendere realmente possibili e fertili la comunicazione e l´interscambio tra culture diverse: lingue, gesti, atteggiamenti, sensibilità, punti di vista, sono molti gli aspetti della vita che necessitano di una traduzione, per poter intraprendere quel viaggio affascinante e rischioso che è l´incontro con l´altro.

E la prima cosa di cui c´è bisogno è essere aperti, in molti sensi. Quest´autunno promette bene: dal 17 al 22 settembre si terrà all´ Università Aalto e dintorni l´ Open Knowledge Festival. Una settimana di conferenze, workshops, incontri, apprendimento peer-to-peer, con invitati da tutto il mondo. Esperti e/o semplici entusiasti, con la passione di mettere la tecnologia e l´innovazione al servizio della società. Per ricreare quel senso di comunità così spesso perduto nella fretta quotidiana, mettere in contatto comunità globali e locali, rivalutare la collaborazione (do it with others), in una parola darsi una chance di rendere questo mondo più abitabile e umano di come lo conosciamo.

Senza dimenticare che “la tecnologia non promuoverà ´la democrazia e i diritti umani´ al nostro posto”. Per questo servono le persone in carne e ossa, individui che si lascino coinvolgere nel cambiamento in prima persona.

[1] Z.Bauman, L´etica in un mondo di consumatori (Does Ethics Have a Chance in a World of Consumers?), p. 102, Laterza, Bari, 2011, Harvard University Press, Cambridge-London, 2008.