Corkman plays hi-tech role in 'Guardian' use of Afghan data


SOFTWARE DEVELOPER Daithí Ó Crualaoich, a Cork native, was part of a small team at the Guardianinvolved in producing the massive piece of “datajournalism” that helped to shed new light on the war in Afghanistan this week.

Last Sunday, the whistleblower website Wikileaks, in conjunction with the Guardian, the New York Timesand Der Spiegel, notoriously published six years’ worth of classified US military reports on the war in Afghanistan.

Mr Ó Crualaoich, who studied computer science at UCC and worked at the college’s Centre for Unified Computing before starting at the British newspaper’s website two years ago, helped to create interactive maps that paired data on casualties and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks.

The Wikileaks story is one of the most well-known examples of datajournalism, whereby investigative journalists and technology experts team up to turn raw data into compelling news.

The story was originally leaked to Wikileaks via a single Excel spreadsheet with more than 92,000 data rows.

After the data had been crunched, Mr Ó Crualaoich created the maps by taking longitude and latitude co-ordinates included in IED attack reports and entering them into mapping software that recreated the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

Viewers of the Guardian’s Data Blog can view maps of specific incidents, as well as a larger map that charts IED attacks and their corresponding day-to-day casualties.

When viewed continuously, these maps provide a fascinating portrait of the gradual rise of the Taliban resistance since 2004 and the war’s mounting death toll.

“The lead-up to publishing a big story is always exciting,” said Mr Ó Crualaoich. “The content itself was very depressing, so it was an unpleasant week reading it repeatedly as part of the software development.”

Investigative reporters at the Guardianhad been working on the story over the last month, with the aid of systems editor Harold Frayman, who helped to create a searchable database from the leaked information.

On the technology side, Mr Ó Crualaoich was accompanied by a team of three other software developers and a co-ordinating manager. He joined the project a week before publication, when the Guardianbegan to focus on visual presentation of the information.

Datablog editor Simon Foster said it was the biggest datajournalism project the blog had undertaken since its launch.

The Guardianestimates that more than one million people have viewed its War Logs webpage, with interactive maps of certain incidents receiving about 250,000 page views this week.