While Wolfram Alpha might be the revolution in search for scientific research, Socrata.com might be the revolution in search for publicly-owned data.
The site combines data sets from over 200 public sources around the nation, aggregating them into one site and usable format. While most sites that deal in public data sources are unwieldy, sometimes broken, and often impossible to navigate, Socrata is simple.
It works similar to a standard search engine using cloud computing in a way similar to many apps made for Twitter or Facebook data collection. This makes it fast and accurate.
The information is presented in such a way that it’s useful to those looking for it. Instead of the usual links to PDF or (worse) Word DOCs, the results are in clear HTML that is nicely rendered from the original source. It’s similar to Google Docs, though probably not as powerful.
On top of that, the site enables users to sign up and network with other researchers to share found data and information. Custom views of single data sets can be made with narrowing filters. So a search of the 2000 census data, for instance, might be narrowed by ZIP code or state.
Personalized views and fields of research data like this can be saved and shared with the person’s social network, if they wish, adding to the usefulness of the site overall.
Socrata, Inc. is based in Seattle, Washington and it’s CEO, Kevin Merritt, touts the site as a new phase of full disclosure and openness in government. “We are providing publicly available data in an interactive, social format that enables citizens, for the first time, to discover, read, manipulate and share publicly available data with a tool we all have – a Web browser,” he says.
The site itself is very easy to understand and moves relatively quickly during searches and when adding filters to narrow results. The information available is interesting and current and mostly comes from government, university, and other public sources.
One of the best parts is Socrata’s ability to pull pure data (numbers, mostly, and charts) from large research files so that if you’re looking just for specific numbers, you don’t have to download the entire 30mb PDF file just to find what’s contained in three paragraphs of one page of it.
Hopefully, Socrata will continue to grow and ad more sources for information and stay free for public use.
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