“In our data-driven society, it is too easy to assume the transparency of data. Instead, we should approach data sets with an awareness that they are created by humans and their dutiful machines, at a time, in a place, with the instruments at hand, for audiences that are conditioned to receive them,” says Yanni Alexander Loukissas, Assistant Professor of Digital Media in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at Georgia Tech.
All data are local. The term data set implies something discrete, complete, and portable, but it is none of those things. Examining a series of sources important for understanding public data in the United States—Harvard's Arnold Arboretum, the Digital Public Library of America, UCLA's Television News Archive, and the real estate marketplace Zillow—this talk explains how to analyze data settings rather than data sets.
The talk sets out six principles: all data are local; data have complex attachments to place; data are collected from heterogeneous sources; data and algorithms are inextricably entangled; interfaces recontextualize data; and data are indexes to local knowledge. Then, it provides a set of practical guidelines to follow. These findings are based on a combination of qualitative research on data cultures and exploratory data visualizations. Rebutting the myth of “digital universalism,” this work reminds audiences of the meaning-making power of the local.