What can Google tell us?
nline searches concerning flu symptoms doubled
over the last two days in Houston, potentially signaling an
outbreak in America’s fourth-largest city.
Real-time satellite data from Global Forest Watch
shows that protected forestland in Oregon has been
cleared overnight. Could it be the result of illegal logging
The Waze app shows traffic backing up miles away
from the highway exit on the edge of town, indicating
some sort of automotive mishap has occurred.
All of this data is available to view online. Today’s
most effective communicators understand how to
access that data and utilize it to bring context to their
That’s why Sorin Adam Matei – a professor in the
Brian Lamb School of Communication and Director
of the Purdue Data Storytelling Network – is intrigued
by the possibilities that exist within the Google News
Lab University Network, a collaboration between the
technology giant and more than 200 universities across
“You have all the data, you’ve found this and that,
but now how do people take advantage of this and tell
a compelling story to the world about it?” Matei asked.
“Now sure, people intuitively know how to do it some, but
many of them don’t.
"So can we do a little bit more about it and actually
move the conversation a little bit from pure engineering
and computer science to the domains that are more
appropriate for this, which is communication?”
Matei’s plans for Purdue’s contribution to the network
are still in development, but he has two primary goals.
First, he wants to formulate a curriculum teaching
data skills – like how to use cloud-based Google
Spreadsheets in storytelling – to journalists and those
in corporate communications or marketing. In addition,
Matei intends to launch a series of seminars with data
storytellers offering lectures and workshops.
“I’m thinking very much about the big social media
houses – invite some of their researchers and tell us how
they mine data, how they get insights and all that,” Matei
said. “And not just social media, maybe people who work
for the financial sector and engineering.”
Purdue Executive Vice President and Chief
Information Officer Gerry McCartney (Ph.D. 1995,
Sociology) believes that everyone should be aware of how
data analytics impact so many of their daily interactions.
Whether it’s a purchase Amazon recommends or a story
Facebook funnels into your news feed, none of it appears
there at random.
“It’s going on in every facet of human endeavor right
now, at least in industrialized countries, so it’s important
that our students are exposed to that,” McCartney said.
That is a primary objective of Google’s data
storytelling partnership with universities, and it is why
Purdue jumped aboard as one of the initial collaborators.
“We’re a quantitative school, so we believe in the value
of numbers,” McCartney said. “Anything that we can
produce or use to help our students be more successful, to
help our faculty be more successful, we’re going to be right
up at the front of that, trying to develop those products
“So this Google tools story is just another facet of that
– one centered around news. We’re just endorsing that
is all we’re saying. This fits right in with the way we do