By Katharine Webster
The final semester of his senior year as a criminal justice major, Kevin Copson took a class on sustainable development – and got a glimpse of the magic that could be performed by Weave: free, open-source software created by university researchers that can transform reams of data into maps, charts and graphs.
The software literally wove together his many interests – in research, policy and open sharing of information. It was tantalizing.
“For the year I took off between undergrad and graduate school, I just kept thinking about Weave, and that’s part of what inspired me to come back to school – I wanted to learn how to use this type of software,” he says.
Now Copson, who graduated this spring with his M.A. in Peace and Conflict Studies with a focus on policy analysis, is working in marketing and sales for Weave Visual Analytics, a university-backed startup in the Wannalancit Mills business incubator that’s continuing to develop Weave and support it with training and customization. The company released Weave 2.0 in April.
Weave – which stands for Web-based Analysis and Visualization Environment – was created by Computer Science Prof. Georges Grinstein (now professor emeritus) and 25 of his students at the university’s Institute for Visualization and Perception Research five years ago, with support from the Open Indicators Consortium. More than 200,000 users have downloaded it worldwide since then.
“It’s democratization of data. It’s available to anyone, and you’re putting data in a format that can be understood by many people, leading to smarter policy and better evaluations,” Copson says. “It can be used for business intelligence or by government agencies and nonprofits, or even just individuals who have a blog and want to visualize the data they track.”
That class in which Copson saw his first Weave visualization was taught by Work Environment and Global Studies Assoc. Prof. William Mass, co-founder, with Grinstein, of the Weave software development initiative. When Copson began his graduate studies part-time while working a full-time job, he took another class with Mass and told him he wanted to learn “that Weave stuff.”
“He brought me back to the lab and gave me some small projects I could work on to start learning how to use Weave. Two years later, when his research assistant was graduating, he offered me the position,” Copson says. “That allowed me to finish my master’s degree in one additional year.”
As a research assistant, Copson used Weave to support the Lowell Data Common, which helps researchers, nonprofits and government agencies share data to evaluate their policies and target resources better. He also used it for several classes and his master’s thesis research, in which he analyzed all residential property sales in Lowell from 2000 to 2015 to determine how university expansion had affected housing values in the Acre neighborhood.
“I had 38,000 rows of data from the Registry of Deeds,” he says. “All you have to do is drag and drop the database into Weave and put it on a map and you can instantly see trends and anomalies.”
In February, he approached Weave Visual Analytics’ CEO Howard Berke to see if he could get a job after graduation. Berke invited him to start in May as North American sales representative.
“It’s almost a dream come true getting to work with the company, because we can now support Weave and make sure that it spreads,” Copson says. “I think it’s a great tool.”