Dream Dataset

Friday, March 18, 2016 - 17:00
Mon, 03/14/2016 to Mon, 03/21/2016

"Big data" is reshaping our world. With enough data, we can learn all kinds of things about the world. Google uses information about where everyone is to create detailed traffic maps of almost every street in the US, and use those traffic maps to generate directions that route people around traffic. Amazon has a new product (the Echo) that listens to everyone and uses that data to better understand what we are saying. The New York Times used data from Netflix viewing to map out how parts of large cities are different from each other based on the movies they watch.

This week is your opportunity to write your dream story. If you could have any large data set you wanted (and could hire some skilled technical people to help you understand it), what would it be? I want you to dream up an awesome story that you would love to write if you had access to a very large data set about a specific topic, and describe what that story would be and how it depends on that dream dataset.

Some examples that I'd love to have:

  • A water quality measurement for every square foot of water in Michigan, for the last 10 years. To better understand how pollution moves through our water
  • Every second of movement of all the players on a basketball court. To find out if Lebron is really as important as they say to the Cavs.
  • The financial records of all the US congress people. To see how their voting records match up with their private accounts.
  • Video from all of the drone strikes the US has done. To see what the devastation really looks like, and count the true number of victims.

In your essay, you should describe what the data would look like. Be as detailed as you can be; include what kind of measurements you want. Also, describe approximately how you would go about analyzing the data. Would you look for statistical patterns? Would you generate interactive information visualizations like the Netflix maps to help you see it? Would you have a huge team of people read everything searching for irregularities? This is a dream, so don't let resources constrain you. Finally, describe how you would present this information to news consumers. Would you present it as an interactive visualization on the Internet? (if so, it doesn't have to be the same visualization as you used to analyze the data.) Would you write a traditional newspaper story or magazine article? Would this be best as a TV news segment?

Your essay must be entered into the system by Friday (3/18) at 5pm. It should be in the neighborhood of 300-500 words, and include a relevant image at the top of the article.

Over the weekend or on Monday, be sure to log into the class system. Try to read all of the stories from your fellow students, and (optionally) leave comments to the author about the essay. You will be assigned as a "Discussant" for one of the essays. Read that essay carefully; you will be asked to present that essay on Monday to the rest of the class. You will also "discuss" it by describing whether you agree with the argument in the essay or not, and why you think this example is interesting to think about (or not). Try to include both praise and criticism in your discussion.


It's no secret to those who know me that I love music.

Karen Hopper

I used to daydream about being an Olympic gymnast.