World Bank releases its data to the public

The World Bank releases a new website that exposes its huge collection of data. The institution tracks over 300 indicators such as CO2 emissions, life expectancy at birth, unemployment rate and many more. Instead of providing boring tables and downloadable excel spreadsheets, the agency creates beautiful charts and maps to display its data. I think the website is gorgeous and works way better than the confusing Sorry Mr. Tufte.

World Bank President Zoellick talks about the initiative:

Today we are opening up one of the world’s most reliable and comprehensive databases on developing economies. It includes more than 2,000 indicators from countries around the world, including hundreds that go back 50 years.

You can also watch his speech about the project

World Bank’s Open Data Initiative from World Bank on Vimeo.

Besides the beautiful website, The agency also let you play with the data using its API. I haven’t had a chance to do that yet, but it looks promising.

From Textpattern to WordPress

It took a few people to convince me to move my blog from Textpattern to WordPress. Not because I think WordPress is worse, I just didn’t want to spend too much time recreating my templates. A couple of weeks ago, I finally decided to move on and leave Textpattern behind. As a content management system, it was useful, but it never quite managed to do what I wanted.

For the new site, I did a slight re-design. I wanted to make it cleaner and better for reading. One of the biggest design changes was using Georgia typeface for post body content instead of Arial/Helvetica. I also moved from a 12-column to a 24-column grid design. To speed up the redesign process, I used the framework. I have to say I am really happy with it so far.

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Dirty Heating Oil in New York City

new york oil
Click on image to view the map

This is a map I created recently for the Environmental Defense Fund. It shows buildings in New York City that burn dirty oil. The map contains information about 9000 buildings that burn either type 4 or type 6 oil. Both types are bad for the environment.

My biggest challenge with this map was the sheer amount of data it has to load, parse and plot. Fortunately, AS3 is fast. It is a pleasure to see the parser churns through thousands of lines almost instantly. Another factor that made my life much easier was the map framework I used. I want to thank the people at and the developers of modest map for creating an amazing framework. With just a few tweaks I managed to plot thousands of points on a map.

It seems like the story got a lot of attention. It was mentioned by The New York Times and Daily News.

To view the map, please click here

Handmade fonts

Vladimir Loginov and Maksim Loginov from designed a beautiful and unique set of fonts. Here are a few of my favorites. There are a lot more here if you want to check them out.

Toaster font

Handwritten font

Concrete and rock
Concrete and rock font

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Creative tableware designs

This is part of the full list from Most of the designs in the original list are interesting, but I think only the ones below are actually useful.

On/Off Mug
on/off coffee mug

Eva Solo smiley bowl
Eva Solo smiley bowl

Drink Selector Mug
Drink selector mug

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Grid-based designs for flash

There is an interesting article about designing grid systems for flash on AisleOne. I have been using grids in most of my designs and I think they are very useful. Some people say that grid-based designs are usually static and boring. I have to disagree with that statement. Grids are used to tie different design elements together and to give the design a structure. They work especially well in the news environment, where designers have less time to come up with a good design.

Below are links to tutorials and other resources that cover designing grid systems for Web sites.

Designing grid systems for flash – by Antonio Carusone

Grids are good – by Khoi Vinh

5 Simple Steps to Designing Grid Systems: Preface – by Mark Boulton

Five simple steps to designing grid systems – Part 1 – by Mark Boulton

Five simple steps to designing grid systems – Part 2 – by Mark Boulton

Five simple steps to designing grid systems – Part 3 – by Mark Boulton

Five simple steps to designing grid systems – Part 4 – by Mark Boulton

Five simple steps to designing grid systems – Part 5 – by Mark Boulton

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The work behind election maps

msnbc election 08 map widgets

Now that the election is over and I am well rested, I want to look back at what we have worked on all these months at A few people wrote me asking about the process of creating a large scale project in a fast paced environment. Here is a longer answer to that question. Since this post will be a bit long, I will break it into several sections.

Pre-election content

We put a huge amount of effort into the Decision ’08 Dashboard data explorer map. Many people had been preparing interactive content for our election coverage for months before I arrived. By the time I started in July 2008, most of the core functionality of the map had been developed. My first assignment was to support other developers and designers, by preparing data and writing small utility classes. Next, I created the polling data display and helped with designing the fundraising data display.

msnbc election 2008 data map
Click on image to see full size.

We wanted to map every data set we could find that came with geographic information. There were at least 10 data sets we wanted to map, but we launched our politics front map with only six data sets. We added user opinion, polling, candidate appearances and fundraising data over the next several weeks.

Most of our data sets were huge and we needed the technology to support and serve them to a large audience. This is where the team that builds our publishing platform came in. They built a new, user-friendly database tool just in time for us to use for the election.

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