Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Getting Started with Data: Google Fusion Tables

By Ryan Murphy

With data oriented reporting on the rise, journalists are naturally looking for ways to jump in. However, many quickly realize that it is not just a clean cut process, even less so than stepping into the world of video. Whereas now it is as simple as creating a YouTube account to get your footage online and viewable by the world, creating data interactives still require a certain level of expertise (both with coding and data management) and, even more difficult, somewhere to host it.

Much like how Google's YouTube became the standard for video online, Google is trying to do the same in the field of online database management with Google Fusion Tables. Fusion Tables, recently released as a beta (in classic Google form), is a "modern data management and publishing web application that makes it easy to host, manage, collaborate on, visualize, and publish data tables online."

So what can you do with it? In its current form, it is primarily being used by news organizations as an easy way to overlay data with a geographic aspect over a Google Map. Current efforts range from the very basic, such as the Chicago Tribune's breakdown of community towing regulations in the Chicago area, to the more complex interactive GovTracker put together by The Texas Tribune as way to follow gubernatorial public appearances.

Although Fusion Tables is still in rapid early development (and prone to periodic hangups, there is a lot of code at work behind the scenes), it has already been entrusted to host some major collections of data, including the Guardian's recent effort to map every Iraq War death using the Wikileaks Iraq War Logs release.

To get started with Fusion Tables, all you need is a Google account. (If you use Gmail, you are good to go!) The Chicago Tribune provides an excellent walkthrough that details the process of taking a simple .CSV of data and how to plug it into the service.

Already have data of your own you think would be a good fit for Fusion Tables? Share what you create in the comments!

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