Monday, February 9, 2015

Venice Dashboard: the real-time pulse of the city

The Venice Dashboard is one of the many impressive contributions of the 25th anniversary of the Venice Project Center. It represents a departure from the numerous other achievements reachable from the VPC 2.5 web site in its focus on the present instead of on the past.
The Venice Dashboard was inspired by the London Dashboard (part of a series of UK City Dashboards) created at the Center for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) at the Bartlett School of University College London (UCL). We adapted the concept to the unique situation of Venice, focusing on on such Venice-specific issues as: the cumulative hourly and daily impact of tourism vis a vis the declining local population; flooding forecasts in real time; and local waterbus service announcements.   In the process, we significantly rewrote the original UCL code, and shared in a public repository in the spirit of the collaboration with CASA.

The Dashboard consists of several "widgets" that encapsulate and visualize relevant real-time events of interest to citizens, city officials and visitors alike.  Each widget aggregates data available from a multiplicity of public web sites and summarizes the information in easy-to-digest capsules arrayed on the screen in tiles of varying dimensions.
The data sources used in each tile are listed in the About screens accessible from the pulldown V " buttons at the top-right of each widget (see example of About page for widget shown here).
The simplicity of the Venice Dashboard belies the sophistication of the complex underlying cloud technologies employed to produce the various widget displays, which include: real-time databases stored in JSON trees, javascript and PHP scripts that -- like cron jobs -- are run with different periodicity, paired with d3js graphical visualizations, manipulated using Yahoo Pipes, fed from RSS feeds, APIs and screen-scraped data obtainable from official public web sites.  Indeed, each of the widgets in the current version of the Venice Dashboard is complex enough to deserve its own blog entry (in due time).  Another future blog entry will describe the generalized "dashboard system" we have developed, which allows us to continue to create sharable and re-usable custom widgets and dashboards such as the ones dedicated to Venice Tourism, and many others.