Bringing data to the people

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A new website launched by MIT Media Lab earlier this month has successfully brought vast troves of data from across the USA into one, easily readable, format.

Data USA is, as its creators describe “the most comprehensive website and visualization engine of public US Government data. Data USA tells millions of stories about America.”

The process began in 2014, with a collaborative project between UK company Deloitte, programers at Datawheel, Macroconnections, MIT, and many more researchers and government employees.

It brings together some of the most up-to-date information on jobs, economy, census data, and crime to the public, in an easily searchable way.

One problem sometimes levelled against data visualisation is it can be difficult to interpret anything from it, and can sometimes be construed to change the story the data tells.

The amount of data available on Data USA is exhaustive, and brings together the data from a wide range of datasets.

Having played with the website a little, it is clear the creators have brought about a user-friendly interface, with excellent visualisation, and understandable summaries.

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Data USA contains data on specific industries and locations.

Albeit the datasets have (in my limited observation) come from the same locations, it is encouraging to know there is a straightforward access point (literally, datausa.io) where the public can get all the information they need in one place.

With any luck, this will allow for greater transparency for ordinary people who might not be exceptionally data literate, allow businesses to better target audiences in specific areas, and data journalists to build stories.

Despite common perception, there remains a gap in computer literacy is prevalent in the UK, even in young people.

In those who are more likely to lack digital skills, particularly elderly people, there is a severe lack of representation online from these demographics, and has other implications for them.

As the Royal Geographical Society stated:

“Digital inequality matters because those without access and the right combination of access, skills, motivation and knowledge are missing out on important areas of the digital world.

“This doesn’t just impact on individual lives but on families, communities, political processes, democracy, public services and the economic and social health of the nation as a whole.”

Furthermore, as has been seen with the Panama Papers, and subsequent release of tax records by many leading UK politicians, perhaps the UK could see a similar Big Data website provided here.

With time, Data USA can grow and become more detailed, but the role it is playing already is a vital one in an increasingly datafied world.

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