What’s Wrong with Open-Data Sites–and How We Can Fix Them – Scientific American Blog Network


Imagine shopping in a supermarket where every item is stored in boxes that look exactly the same. Some are filled with cereal, others with apples, and others with shampoo. Shopping would be an absolute nightmare! The design of most open data sites—the (usually government) sites that distribute census, economic and other data to be used and redistributed freely—is not exactly equivalent to this nightmarish supermarke. But it’s pretty close.
During the last decade, such sites—data.gov, data.gov.uk, data.gob.cl, data.gouv.fr, and many others—have been created throughout the world. Most of them, however, still deliver data as sets of links to tables, or links to other sites that are also hard to comprehend. In the best cases, data is delivered through APIs, or application program interfaces, which are simple data query languages that require a user to have a basic knowledge of programming. So understanding what is inside each dataset requires downloading, opening, and exploring the set in ways that are extremely