Project: Data Sonification

This project catalogues ways that use sound to ‘visualise’ (aka: sonify) data. That may sound really abstract and complicated, but pop over to the site and you might be surprised. What’s fascinating about this area is that it crosses over science, sound/music and art.

One of my favourites, that brings data sonifcation to life, is the Royal Festival Hall’s singing glass lift by Martin Creed, Work 409. It was installed in 2005 and is still taking visitors up and down the six levels of the building. Bringing smiles to everyone who gets in. As Word 409 producer, Neill Quinton, explained: “Aurally, you’re hearing a complete representation of what is going on spatially.”

The project has it’s own Twitter account: @DataSonify.


UK government announces creation of Data Strategy Board

Amongst the many announcements in today’s financial autumn statement by the Chancellor George Osborne is the creation of a Data Strategy Board and Public Data Group. The aim according to the government’s statement is that: ‘open up public sector data will make travel easier and healthcare better, and create significant growth for industry and jobs in the UK.’

The government state that:

The Open Data measures will boost investment in medical research and digital technology in the UK, including many small and medium sized enterprises. This will help realise the Prime Minister’s ambition to make Tech City one of the world’s great technology centres and create an environment where the next Apple or Skype could come out of the UK by making useful and valuable transport, health, weather and house price data available.

The measures will specifically:

  • improve medical knowledge and practice with world-first linked-data services which will enable healthcare impacts to be tracked across the entire Health Service and improve medical practice; the service is expected put the UK in a prime position for research investment
  • make business logistics and commuting more efficient through new planned and real-time information on the running of trains and buses across Great Britain and data on almost every road in Britain for the first time, including road works, for use in ‘satnav’ and digital technology
  • allow entrepreneurs to develop useful applications for business and consumers using the largest volume of open, free, high-quality weather data in the world along with house prices at address level
  • empower patients through individual access to their personal GP records online and encourage the market for education data management and learning platforms.

It all looks like good news, but the devil is often in the detail, so I’m still trying to digest what this may mean in practice. For those much wiser than I here is the news via an email from Jule Price Julie Price, Assistant Director, Shareholder Executive, Department for Business, Innovation & Skills:

Dear All

As promised we want to keep our stakeholders up to date with the latest progress on the Public Data Corporation project. You may well have seen the Chancellor’s announcement within today’s Autumn Statement but I thought that it would be helpful to set out what this means in practice.

The [UK] Government has today announced that:

To support the growth of high-value data businesses and make access to data easier for startups, the Government is making available for free a range of core reference data sets. In addition it is announcing the creation of a Data Strategy Board and a Public Data Group which will maximise the value of data the public sector buys from the Met Office, Ordnance Survey, Land Registry and Companies House.

What this means in practice:
Delivering on its commitment to establish a Public Data Corporation, Government has announced the establishment of a Data Strategy Board (DSB) which will seek to maximise the value of data from the Public Data Group (PDG) of Trading Funds for long-term economic and social benefit, including through the release of data free of charge.

Sending a clear signal of the DSB’s mandate, Government is announcing the release of additional core reference datasets for unrestricted use from the PDG, including, for the first time, weather observation and detailed weather forecast data and core data from the Companies Register.

The PDG currently includes Ordnance Survey, Met Office, HM Land Registry and Companies House. The Group will identify and deliver efficiencies and synergies to reduce the cost of data for users and re-users of data and provide additional funding for making data freely available.

This change clearly separates the commissioning and provision functions of public data, rebalancing the incentives to release more data for free, as well as strengthening the capability of Government to commission data for its own needs.

This announcement signals a significant step towards making additional core reference data from the Met Office, Ordnance Survey, HM Land Registry and Companies House available and free at the point of use.

For further information on the wider announcement please see the following link:

I do hope this is helpful and we will of course keep you informed of further progress.

If you would like to discuss this further please do not hesitate to contact me.

Kind regards.


UPDATE 8/12/2011: Tim Davies has evaluated what all this might mean in a blog post here.

Smartphones and war reporting – a crowdsourced list of research

Last week I was contacted by Emanuele Ballacci a Multimedia Journalism Degree student in Rome. He’d come to a talk I’d given earlier in the year in Perugia discussing the use of mobile phones and social media in reporting. As part of his graduation thesis about war journalism and new technologies he wanted to discuss ‘the usefulness of smartphones and new generation mobile phones on reporting from war contexts’, and wondered if I could suggest any books or reading on the subject. To date, he’d only found books that discuss the subjects separately.

This didn’t surprise me in some ways as using smart mobile devices in journalism is still fairly new and war zones aren’t often known for their 3G signals. You also know you’re onto something possibly interesting when a Google search comes back with results for smartphone wars (think iPhones v Androids). No immediate books came to mind. So I replied that I’d see what I could find out, as I was also interested in the answer.

Thankfully I do know people who at least may know the answer to such things. So I put a shout-out on Twitter and cc’d in the likes of Paul Bradshaw, Kevin Anderson and Ilicco Elia, who then asked those they thought might know and so on. The net widened and others such as Daniel Bennett chipped in. In combination we came up with the following:

Everyone who responded wanted to know more.

I suggested to Emanuele that he could end up being the expert in this area, judging by our findings, and said I’d be writing up what little we’d found, and happy to include anything further that he’s aware of. He got back to me with the following wider reading list as follows:

Other food for thought that I found during my research:
Online newsgathering, Quinn & Lamble
Always On, Chen
Multimedia Journalism: A practical guide, Bull
In the Hot Zone, Sites
– An ironic but interesting suggestion:

If anyone knows of any other research, blog posts or books in this area please do suggest them in the comments below.