The Current State of Social Data

Check out my guest post on The Guardian’s Data Blog on the current state of social data applications. There are what seems like a ton of them but none of them have really taken off (yet).

While the post is more of an overview of what’s available, I’d like to start a little discussion here on why these data apps haven’t gained more popularlity. There always seems be a lot of buzz around launch time, but then it fizzles.

Are people just not interested in interacting with data or do we need to approach the whole social data puzzle from a different angle?


  • Nathan,

    Interesting post, thanks for highlighting all those service!

    I think social data visualization is certainly nascent and that a few things will contribute to it becoming more sticky/viable:

    * making the data interesting to a person at the individual level (probably through isolating it to a vertical, social action, network, or behavior)
    * making the data actionable, or insightful, or transactional — if everyday behaviors come to depend on the data it’ll stick
    * making the data accessible alongside places social activity is already happening

    Keep the good posts coming.

  • I’ve looked at possibly using some of the available tools for displaying social data, as opposed to the traditional tabular displays. My application is for a history book that I’m writing.

    It seems to me that perhaps my data is so simple that converting it to alternative display formats introduces the complication of making the reader try to figure out how the new format works. Only then can they try to figure out what the data is (supposed to be) telling them.

    I’m attracted to the alternative displays, but maybe it’s just because I’m a geek?

    Love the concept and appreciate the effort you’re putting into all this, NAthan.

  • I think data viz–as something outside of science–is a little bit of a new field AND it has a steep learning curve. As I’m new to it myself, I could be wrong but the level of skill required to expertly communicate complex information in a graphic and interactive format seems pretty freaking high.

    Social media sites often thrive off of dilettantes. I mean no disrespect there as I am pretty much a dilettante too. For example, It’s fairly simple to make photographs look nice these days and so you have Flickr with a bajillion people posting halfway decent photographs. Though there is a difference between those who are experienced in photography versus those who just got a new digital camera or who are slinging around a lomo, the newer recruits can still make interesting photographs with a limited amount of time investment. I think people who are new to visualizing data can’t really make anything all that terribly interesting without spending tons of time on it and as such that limits the number of participants.

    By that I mean you can only see so many wordles before they loose their luster, no matter what they’re supposed to be analyzing. Perhaps the tools to create unique visualizations need to be more accessible.

    I think anyway. I just woke up and am pretty much guessing.

  • As others point out – motivation and skill are primary factors in the success of social media. On the former, the US (and other countries’) governments recent efforts to open access to public sector data may provide additional impetus to social data applications. There are already several public interest groups developing tools for exploring public sector data –,,, etc. – providing varying degrees of social interaction.

  • Hi Nathan,

    A Personal view, just one reason – awareness, awareness, awareness!!!
    People who we need to target – anthropologists, trend-spotters, social scientists, planners (both media & advertising) and data analytics professionals.

    Professional view – this is a true blend of science & art.
    Yet, the development has not matched expectations!