2/7/2012

Meet data mapping platform CartoDB

 

The CartoDB data mapping platform is thought to be a more accessible alternative to Google Fusion Tables (see image below). So the question is - how does CartoDB function? In a nutshell - SQL (structured query language) handles CartoDB's database queries and CSS (cascading style sheets) controls how the data is displayed. Users have more freedom to customise their data, for example they can choose how much data is displayed and how it is shown.  

The difference between Fusion Tables and CartoDB is explained: "In Fusion Tables you are very limited to how you want the marker to look like, it’s just a circle in different colours [...]. But in CartoDB, because we support a full styling language like Carto CSS, you can do many more things, like changing the opacity, using a symbol, or more importantly, changing how it looks at different zoom levels", reads a comparative analysis between the two tools on the CartoDB blog. More importantly, CartoDB is open source and does not impose data size limits.

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A visual comparison between Fusion Tables and CartoDB

Uploading data from an Excel, CSV, or even a GPS exchange format spreadsheet is easily done through a drag and drop function and spreadsheets with full addresses can also be geocoded by selecting which columns the system should pick to display the requested data. 

CartoDB is a full geospatial database, which means users can use all geospatial functionalities they need, like geospatial intersections. Additionally CartoDB can visualize millions of records at the same time while deciding exactly how to style the maps. The application is particularly efficient as a geospatial database, it simplifies data analysis and visualization and is ideal for building full data apps and tools through a set of APIs. CartoDB allows journalists to store, analyse and publish data and to build dynamic apps. 

Some of the projects realised with CartoDB include El Microscopio del Voto, a project designed for the Spanish Public Television, which won the bronze medal at the last Malofiej Awards, Carbon Calculator, a real-time data analysis tool to calculate the potential contribution of any area in the world to climate change mitigation and Species Sphere, a visualization of 12 million records of endangered species trade using D3 js library through CartoDB APIs to fetch and query the data dynamically. The project was designed in the course of eight hours during the last EcoHack NYC

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The interface of the Species Sphere project illustrates what can be achieved with CartoDB

Real-time, dynamic applications such as CartoDB are booming and perfectly match the philosophy behind data journalism: engaging the audience over complex issues in the public interest in meaningful, informative and entertaining ways. "Data journalism is no longer a field of minority interest, it is behind daily editorial decisions, journalistic reporting, apps development and new business models. Any journalist will need to work with data and we need skills and tools to do it properly," says Carlos Martínez de la Serna, one of the minds behind CartoDB. He also added that "there is an emerging field of real-time, dynamic apps. We have to work with data coming from sensors and other sources, to explore new ways of getting and analysing data in collaboration with the readers. We have these things in mind when working on present and future releases of CartoDB and we submitted a proposal to the Knight News Challenge in this respect."

An article published by the Knight Digital Media Center explains some of the tool's functionalities in more detail while the CartoDB blog is a very good resource to find inspiration and to explore existing and past projects realised with this application. 

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