By Jessie Forand/ECHO Tonight we will hit the switch, lighting up Lake Brite on the Burlington Waterfront. This incredible project, funded...

Lake Brite: Google Q&A

By Jessie Forand/ECHO

Tonight we will hit the switch, lighting up Lake Brite on the Burlington Waterfront. This incredible project, funded by Google, will help everyone engage in data we can see and participate in the conversation about Lake Champlain - its temperature, species, and overall health. 

See below for an interview with Google Analytics Evangelist Justin Cutroni and join us at 4 p.m. for the lighting event. Can't make it today? Stop by from now on to see what this is all about! 

ECHO (E): Why is this project interesting to Google?

Justin Cutroni (JC), Google Analytics Evangelist: Gosh - this project is interesting for a lot of reasons! To put it briefly, Lake Brite touches three areas that that are important to us - education, data literacy and the environment. The ability to combine all three of these into a single project is exciting.

Lake Brite is also exciting because it's something new and different. We've never seen anything like this. At Google, we often talk about "100X" projects - projects that are not incremental but designed to make a 100X change. Lake Brite is definately NOT incremental - it's something new that can potentially have a huge impact on people understand the health of Lake Champlain and interact with information. 

E: What do you find most intriguing/what will the community like about it?

JC: There are two things that are really intriguing to me about Lake Brite. 

The first thing I really like is how visually stunning the display is. I don't think anything else exists like this in the world! We have 7,500 bulbs that can be individually programmed to display information. When most people think about data they think about a spreadsheet or a basic chart. This will transform data into art and help people engage and understand it.

Second, and this is a little bit geekier, is the fact that Lake Brite is a platform. It's not a static exhibit that displays the same visualization over and over again. It's a tool that researchers, programmers and artists can use to display, explore and communicate data. It could be a research student at UVM or a maker from Generator - we want Lake Brite to be open and accessible to those that can use. it. I can't wait to see what people come up with!

E: What is data visualization? Why do we need it? 

JC: Data is becoming a bigger and bigger part of our lives. I remember as a boy pouring over the box scores in the Boston Globe, memorizing the statistics of Jim Rice, Dwight evans and many other Red Sox players. Now, as an obsessive skier, I pour over weather data trying to understand why we don't have any snow yet!

It can be challenging to use traditional data visualization to identify trends or insights. A tool like Lake Brite will make data more approachable. Using a tool like Lake Brite we hope to make patterns and trends easier to identify and understand.

E: Where do you think (or hope) this technology can take us? 

JC: First and foremost I hope that Lake Brite helps the public understand what's happening to Lake Champlain and our the entire Lake Champlain basin. We often hear statistics about the lake - like weather conditions, water levels and algae blooms - but LakeBridge can bring that data to life. Not only can we display historical trends, but we can also display our progress to certain environmental goals. This is really important, because we can literally see the change that all of us contribute to every day. 

Globally, it will be really cool to have others use Lake Brite to display data. If there's one thing that I've learned at Google, it's that the world is _very_ big and _very_ connected. It will be awesome to see how other use this tool to display and analyze data. And using tools like real-time video we can share every visualization with the world.

E: What is the benefit of having a data literate world? What can this do for us as a global culture?

JC: All of us are exposed to growing amounts of data - just turn on the news or read the newspaper. There's data about everything from our federal budgets to the environment. Understanding where this data comes from, what the data means, will be important to us as a society as we formulate opinions and debate ideas.

Mark Twain popularized a saying; "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." As we continue to live in a data rich it's important for all of us to understand when data is used correctly. 

E: Very simply, why should people care about Lake Brite?

JC: Lake Brite is a visualization of the Lake Champlain basin's health! It's also a tool to help us all interact with data.

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