Thursday, September 15, 2011

Digital information news

A couple of items of interest regarding the need for foundations and nonprofits to deepen their thinking about digital information:

The Center for Digital Information, on whose Advisory Board I am proud to serve, has announced funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a partnership with the Annenberg School at U Penn. The Center will help foundations, nonprofits and think tanks integrate digital strategies into their research. Today's networked social data world requires much more than making a pdf of a document and posting it on a web site. Data structuring, access, engagement, iteration, and mobility - this is how to think about research and communications for change.

I just learned of a new consulting group - Off Leash Studios - with offices in Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area focused on helping nonprofits and think tanks with these same issues. I'll be meeting with them in a few weeks.

Google+ brought me a great new research paper from danah boyd on "Six Provocations for Big Data." The paper makes frequent reference to David Bollier's great work for the Aspen Institute as it looks at what big data mean for all kinds of academic disciplines.

Skip past some of its academic gobbledygook ("‘computationality might then be understood as an ontotheology, creating a new ontological “epoch” as a new historical constellation of intelligibility’" - yeah, right) because boyd and co-author Kate Crawford have some key insights - and good writing - to offer. They offer up my favorite new metaphor for understanding how we live in and create data everywhere we go:
"Massive data sets that were once obscure and distinct are being aggregated and made easily accessible. Data is increasingly digital air: the oxygen we breathe and the carbon dioxide that we exhale. It can be a source of both sustenance and pollution."
While boyd and Crawford are focused on the academic use and structuring of data their recommendations for caution have real world implications for nonprofits, open government activists, and data scientists/visualizers. Those of us who consume cool graphs, interactive maps, and online flow charts with increasing frequency also need to become more critical readers of the data that lie below the cool colors and moving icons. The paper will be presented on September 21 at the Oxford Internet Institute - another great resource on data, networks, and the online world.

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