A New Social Network Seeks to Sort Out the Data Deluge

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With an increasing number of profit-seeking publishers concluding that the unlimited free distribution of original web journalism won't be a sustainable business, it has cleared the path for more simplistic ways to relay stories, without the same demand on audience attention.

Infographics are increasingly being seen as a content genre all their own — while apparently riding the coattails of the movement to urge the public sector to open their data to the dabbling of developers. Naturally, media and marketing types have also seen the appeal, since any information capable of going viral beats the alternative.

With these developments has come an emerging sentiment that data visualizations created as social media bait are better off being ignored because the trend is going to fade.

For now, though, a slick user-generated infographic can still draw attention for its own sake — in the same way that chatrooms or blogs once turned heads on novelty value along. But an infographic slapped together out of self-interest isn't quite worth the scrutiny of a cave painting. Yet, some kind of filter could help draw attention to the data worth a look.

BuzzData, a new Toronto-based startup, has entered this fray with a social network based on the collection, exchange and discussion of statistics. Storytelling based on numerical snapshots may indeed elicit a more instant reaction than reading paragraphs or watching videos. The context can come later.

Naturally, like any kind of gamble on user-generated content, BuzzData can only be as good as the participants. A source that maps the price of weed according to geography is therefore highlighted alongside The Globe and Mail feeding graphs about the price of food.

Making money from traffic to public datasets doesn't appear to be on the agenda for its freemium model — payoff is anticipated from the publishers and products that want to use the tools in their own spaces.

So, it's doesn't seem clear how big the social networking element needs to be. Data for its own sake seems more complicated than the vanity media mirror of Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. More likely, the strength in numbers will depend on special interests wanting to perpetuate a point of view.

At best, a network like BuzzData could provide a forum to help differentiate between lies, damned lies, and statistics. But the onslaught of infographic infotainment may turn all three categories into one blur.

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