How a Change of Perspective Can Make Data Epic

Above, Irish designer John McDermott displays GPS data exported from the bicycling community MapMyRide in a very different way. The change of perspective confers a new feeling to the data. This wasn't just a long bike ride, this was an epic trek that deserves to be commemorated.

McDermott, who heads design at Irish interactive agency AB Brown, has removed all other map data to focus on the route itself and puts the starting and ending point in the distant background to help communicate the great distance traveled. In the bottom corner are details like the date, duration, distance, speed and a graphic representation of the weather during the ride. It's a great example of how a strong design can evoke new communicative value from the data we produce though our everyday activities.

The black background and thick line of the route McDermott uses, as well as the large font for the title of the ride, all give this display of location data a very chic feel. It looks like a commemorative poster for a victorious stadium concert. But it was really just a 90 minute bike ride! It does look like a pretty epic 90 minutes though, with that meandering route, average speed of 13 mph and a top speed of 38 mph.

McDermott offers a number of different treatments of different routes on his Flickr account, which was highlighted today on the design blog NotCot. Map blogger Keir Clarke points to another bike mapping visualization today called Animaps.

From Data, Much is Possible

These are just a few examples of the new kinds of value that can be extracted from data when it can be extracted from the services used to create it and manipulated by other applications. In these cases, there are elements of storytelling, multimedia presentation and emotional communication that are all made possible by working with the data.

The data we create online isn't always as easy to access though as location data is from services like MapMyRide.

One of the people working to change that is Jeremie Miller, inventor of the widely used Instant Messaging protocol XMPP and now co-founder of personal data locker startup Singly. (Here's our in depth write-up of Singly and The Locker Project.)

"When you own your data, anyone can create a new way for you use it, visualize it, experience it and share it," Miller says.

"When someone else owns your data, then new tools can only be developed with the permission of that 3rd party and tied to that 3rd party's system. For those that want to create new experiences, they have to overcome either the permission barriers, or the technological barriers, or the submit-to-a-dictator barriers before doing something great for you with (what should be) your own data. That's a lot of impedance. For every one awesome new experience that can make it past all that and/or find data that is more free/accessible, there are 10, or 100 more, that didn't overcome the barriers."

Thank goodness for freely accessible personal location tracking data; look at the kinds of cool things it makes possible. Perhaps some day all our data, from social networking to health records, will be as accessible to us who should own it to innovate on top of. That would be epic.