Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Gourmet Burger Mapping

The ever popular Twitter maps created using CartoDB's Torque library receive their fair share of criticism. Recently CartoDB's Andrew Hill wrote an article, In Defense of Burger Cartography, in which he defends animated Twitter maps and their creators.

The response that I've seen to Andrew's post has been largely negative. You can get a taste of the criticisms of burger cartography from Needless Lines in the Sand, In Defense of Map Critique and Burger Cartography. I'm not going to jump into this debate, except to say that I think that CartoDB's Torque library is a powerful visualization tool for mapping data over time and like all tools it can be used both badly or expertly.

Here's one Twitter map that I think is done really well.

Singapore's founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, died on March 23rd. The Straits Times created a map to show the reaction to the death of Lee Kuan Yew during the seven days of mourning from March 23 to 30, by providing an animated map of Tweets mentioning the founder by name.

Of course the map is open to the usual criticism of Twitter maps:

  • Twitter users are unrepresentative of the larger population
  • There's no attempt in the map to normalize for population
  • All it really shows is a lot of flashing dots on a map

However I like 1923 - 2015 Lee Kuan Yew because it does try to eke out some sense in the data. The map is synchronized to a frequency graph, which allows you to clearly see the peaks in Twitter activity. It also contextualizes those peaks with added information. For example, the peak on March 23rd as news of Mr Lee's death breaks at 4am and the peak on the 29th during the funeral procession and service.

Well - so what? What does the map actually tell us? Admittedly not a lot.
  • Lots of people on Twitter reacted to the death of Lee Kuan Yew
  • People Tweeted more at certain times 
  • There were a lot more Tweets in Singapore than in the rest of the world
However the map doesn't set out to do anything more than map out the Twitter activity around the founder's death and to be fair does it very well. Hopefully it also serves as a good example of how the Torque library can be used to animate data over time and how you can add other features to Torque to help contextualize and make sense of the mapped data.

Via: Visual Loop - Digital Cartography (92)
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