Web Program Benefits Officials, Journalists, Citizens
By Edwin L. Aguirre
Imagine working on a project with hundreds of individuals around the world simultaneously. Or pulling data from different sources and integrating them into a bigger, more collaborative and connected encyclopedia of data.
That’s the idea behind Weave (Web-based Analysis and Visualization Environment), a powerful, interactive software platform developed by UMass Lowell researchers that helps anyone explore, analyze, visualize and disseminate data available online for any purpose, from any location and at any time.
This revolutionary free and open source program empowers journalists and others to mine publicly available data from various government agencies and corporations to create their own studies and draw their own conclusions.
“It’s part of our commitment to democratize data,” says Computer Science Prof. Georges Grinstein, director of UMass Lowell’s Institute for Visualization and Perception Research and the Center for Biomolecular and Medical Informatics. Grinstein and his team of about 25 students created Weave.
The data — which can include demographics, housing, transportation, technology, community development, education, public health, zoning, land use, environment and energy — is presented in real-time on multiple interactive visualizations at once, such as plots, charts, graphs or maps.
Weave allows users to upload their own datasets in virtually any format into a web page and manipulate them as they please. All the data are linked, so the same data point can be viewed or analyzed from many perspectives. Additional data points can be added to find any correlations or trends. Users can also trim the data to create subsets, or find data errors visually. The program keeps a running history of all the user changes, which can be undone or redone in steps, or replicated by others altogether.
“We believe we can actually get data to the public and affect the way decisions are made,” says Grinstein. “It’s where the public and decision-makers can meet and where consensus can be reached. I see this as a huge step in the progress of the United States and the world toward open source tools.”
Liberating Data for Everyone
“It’s a dream I’ve had for many years — to be able to put the capability of exploring data in the hands of everyone,” says Grinstein. “When Weave started three years ago, it was in its infancy and was more a proof of concept, but it has evolved dramatically.”
He says the software is now being used by a number of cities including Boston, San Antonio, Kansas City, Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle, Portland and Grand Rapids, as well as states including Massachusetts, Arizona, Ohio, Michigan, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Florida.
Weave is supported by the Open Indicators Consortium, a 15-member national collaborative of public and nonprofit organizations, including government agencies, working to improve access to more and higher-quality data.