Fastcompany reporting: In the four years since the U.S. government created data.gov, the first national repository for open data, more than 400,000 datasets have become available online from 175 agencies like the USDA, the Department of Energy, and the EPA. Governments all over the world have taken steps to make their data more transparent and available to the public. But in practice, much of that data--accessible as spreadsheets through sites like data.gov--is incomprehensible to the average person, who might not know how to wrangle huge data sets. Never-ending tables mean next to nothing to me, even if I know that they might be hiding some interesting relationship within their numbers, like how income stacks up with happiness.
To wade through what César Hidalgo, director of the Macro Connections
group at the MIT Media Lab, calls "the last 10 inches" separating people
from their government's incoherent tables and spreadsheets, Hidalgo
turned to visualization. DataViva, a website Hidalgo and a few collaborators helped develop with the Brazilian state government of Minas Gerais,
offers a wide array of web apps that turn those spreadsheets into
something more comprehensible for the average user, whether that's a
policy maker, someone working for the World Bank, an entrepreneur, or a
student. The site, which officially launched last week, can be a bit
overwhelming to navigate, but it has lofty goals: to visualize data
encompassing the entire Brazilian economy over the last decade, with
more than 100 million interactive visualizations that can be created at
the touch of a button in a series of apps. The future of open government
isn't just dumping raw datasets onto a server: It's also about making
those datasets digestible for a less data-savvy public.