Data is a raw, vast mass. There are patterns (and sometimes these patterns no doubt can be easily identified) but often enough, the data does not speak for itself. It requires organisation, interpretation and analysis. For the viewing audience, it requires presentation.
THE RECOVERY EXPLORER
One of the things that stands out about Recovery.Gov’s presentation is its claim that users can “Create and customize your own charts and graphs. ”
I took this claim seriously and set out to verify it. The main page of the explorer tells me what kinds of graphs I can expect to use: tree graphs versus bar charts as well as a list of categories corresponding to these two types of graphs.
I clicked on “Funds Awarded by State by Category” (a category under the bar charts). Though it enables much customisation, it is only somewhat first time user friendly. There’s a tutorial at the bottom whose main purpose is to inform you which is what. Honestly, I would have preferred a little tutorial video, taking me through the process. So, it took me a while to figure out how to create a customised graph for myself. The problem however is that there are almost no written summaries accompanying the graphs so unless one is in the know, the customised graphs don’t really make much sense. Hmm I would have liked a little window to appear with a written summary (the summary done up by an algorithm) whenever I moved my cursor over parts of the data – it would really help!
So does it make the complicated clear? For someone in the know (and even for someone not in the know), the data is well presented. The graphs are clear, the customisation simplifies and keeps the viewer interested but the lack of accompanying summaries to the customised presented data means one has to be in the know to understand even that simplified data. I’m guessing the audience for Recovery.Gov is likely to be a niche, dedicated audience rather than the masses (which is somewhat ironic given general American concerns about government spending).