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Giving data a human face

Bella Hurrell | 09:07 UK time, Friday, 13 March 2009

A data project that we've been working on for a while took on a more human face last week.

The UK fatalities in Afghanistan and Iraq is a data-led interactive that was first published on the BBC News website about a year ago.

casualties.jpgBefore that we had a basic web page which provided a simple list of names, but such an important story demanded more of our attention. So after much digging and data checking we published a sortable table.
This was followed by a dynamic visualisation of the figures in Flash. Last week we added the In Pictures page, which is an aggregation of thumbnail images of all those who have been killed in the conflicts.

This latest page strengthens the coverage, adding another dimension that makes it far more personal, rather than purely a functional way to view the raw data. 

Projects like the military casualties interactive work best when championed by one or two people - journalist John Walton has carried this one forward in a persistent way alongside a host of other projects. 

But one niggly issue with data projects is the resource required to keep them all up to date. We have a number now (recession tracker, school league tables, house price database, teen homicides to name a few) all requiring either ad hoc, weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual updates, not to mention regular development. It's quite a commitment for projects that may go for some time without high-profile exposure.

On a recent visit to the BBC newsroom former LA Times data journalist Eric Ulken told me the LA Times faced similar problems when looking at resourcing of the LA homicide map. At one point the future of the project was in doubt, but thankfully some extra money was found to take it forward.

Finally I should reference some of the inspirations for our casualties project: Washington Post's Faces of the Fallen was possibly the first widely known memorial site for US soldiers killed in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the New York Times Casualties of War has some impressive mosaic image functionality.


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