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Where database technology is taking us

By DJ Kelly April 21, 2009

I have extolled the virtues of databases for years. (I’m certainly no pioneer in this field so I’m not looking for any kind of pat on the back or anything.) I love how they can take extremely complex data and distill it down into actually usable chunks. After all, what good is information if you can’t make any conclusions based out of it?

I’m probably an even bigger fan of real time data. For example, why wait until tomorrow to read a newspaper to find out what is happening right now? This is why I love RSS feeds, Facebook, Twitter and their ilk.

I also really like maps. Not sure why. You’d have to ask my mom why she thinks I spent hours of my childhood looking at atlases. I think it is because they take real data – for example of where a road or country boundary is – and representatively put that information into my hand to allow me to carry it around. One of my favourite childhood memories is my parents letting me navigate the family from Ontario to Florida at the age of 11. I still remember in high school, trying to sit as close to the Social Studies teacher’s desk as possible because he had an amazing collection of historical maps because that made the class discussions ‘real’; but I digress.

Where things really get exciting to me is when you can put databases together with real time information and present this information visually on a map. Here’s an example of the most used terms on Twitter during the 2009 Super Bowl and where those words were originating. (h/t @brownbaggingit) To me, this is amazing stuff!

Even Richard Florida has become map/data crazed. In his most recent book, Who’s Your City?, he begins setting up his premise by using light data collected by a satellites, cross refrenced with census and industry reports to visually represent the places of the world who excel at things like innovation. The maps provide powerful argument to his thesis that where you live is important.

To me, there are some real possibilities this kind of technology offers us. And it’s actually not that difficult or expensive to achieve either; making it even more likely we will start seeing this kind of visualization continue to be become part of our vocabulary and expectations.

I for one can’t wait to see more of this kind of real time data being used by governments and corporations to make important decisions. It will allow for ‘informed’ decisions to be even more so.

Plus who doesn’t love a good map?

UPDATE: Another fantastic example of data being presented visually that just came to my attention: newstimeline.googlelabs.com

  • Kirk Schmidt

    a few years ago I saw one where a person parsed Amazon wishlist data, figured out which books were more democratic or republican-based, and showed the geographic locations of each, thereby identifying democratic and republican regions.

    I also set up something when I ran as an independent that merged several databases.

    We’re going to be in for a real treat when eventually we get to the point where people open up their database schema, allowing someone to tie multiple databases together straight from the SELECT side… we’re a few years out, but it will be cool.

  • Kirk Schmidt

    a few years ago I saw one where a person parsed Amazon wishlist data, figured out which books were more democratic or republican-based, and showed the geographic locations of each, thereby identifying democratic and republican regions.I also set up something when I ran as an independent that merged several databases.We’re going to be in for a real treat when eventually we get to the point where people open up their database schema, allowing someone to tie multiple databases together straight from the SELECT side… we’re a few years out, but it will be cool.

  • Bob McInnis

    I am a map guy to (almost unhealthy obsession with globes, but that’s a different story). I have been priveleged to travel a bit and have city/region/country maps from many places. I have map puzzles for my grandkids (really for them) and appreciate mapping in non geographic forms. I sit on a committee that did a ton of consultation. I dumped 20 pages of input (almost 6000 words) in a word cloud generator and was fascinated by the ‘mapped’ imagery and the graphic relevance that was created. @brownbaggingit

  • Bob McInnis

    I am a map guy to (almost unhealthy obsession with globes, but that’s a different story). I have been priveleged to travel a bit and have city/region/country maps from many places. I have map puzzles for my grandkids (really for them) and appreciate mapping in non geographic forms. I sit on a committee that did a ton of consultation. I dumped 20 pages of input (almost 6000 words) in a word cloud generator and was fascinated by the ‘mapped’ imagery and the graphic relevance that was created. @brownbaggingit

  • Calgary Rants

    I know I love a good map!

  • Calgary Rants

    I know I love a good map!