Sunday, October 3, 2010

data data data

I was asked to evaluate the data section of a newspaper I'd love to work for.

Naturally I went for that sentimental value and went to the News and Observer. First problem: took me about 10 full minutes to find the darn thing. I don't know if that's my fault or not, but I feel like the typical user wouldn't spend that much time looking for it. I looked through all the sections before I found Data Central.

But once I found it, I was really impressed.

Mostly because as someone who doesn't know what they're looking for out of data, it was super easy to navigate and really well organized. There were four really easy categories: government, agriculture, crime, and business/unemployment. Through this, I got a really good idea of what the audience for data is and what at least some of the main uses are for it.

So there were two sections (agriculture and business) that are obviously aimed at edge users, such as farmers or entrepreneurs or those looking for a job.

Crime and government though, it seemed to me could be the very useful for the typical reader. The government section, with useful features like various salary and pension information, allow me to look up the salaries of all my professors.

But I don't know how useful this is after all.

It worked searching some of my professors, but I can't find my Spanish professor. Shouldn't this be public record? Shouldn't this be easy to find? I know I've got her name right. Is there another way to find it? probably. Am I realistically going to? No. Because that's not my job. That's the job of the journalists.

there was one database I found particularly interesting: the "Find a strawberry farm" database. Is there this much of a demand for this? How totally random. But, I have to say, if I needed to find a strawberry farm, my needs would completely be met. I guess there must be a lot of Triangle soccer moms out there who are looking for this sort of thing.

I'm also very curious as to why they have an N.C. Inmate search, a Durham County Inmate Search, but no Wake County inmate search — theoretically isn't that their main market? To say that they're not a real market for crime information but Durham is, seems a tiny bit...racist. And I feel like I would know a lot of my high school and middle school classmates who lived there who might be kinda upset toward this, at least without an explanation.

And there's also a price book. Whoever makes dinner and coupon clippers like my mom love that stuff. Interesting, you can also contribute to it. I really like that it has an easy how to use it section with it, too.

This is mad cool. All really useful stuff. All of this really useful tools for journalists, too. Let's get them public records online, y'all.

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