Data is nothing new. People have been quantifying and tabulating things for centuries. However, while writing for FlowingData, my website on design, visualization, and statistics, I’ve seen a huge boom in just these past few years, and it keeps getting better. Improvements in technology have made it extremely easy to collect and store data, and the web lets you access it whenever you want. This wealth in data can, in the right hands, provide a wealth of information to help improve decision making, communicate ideas more clearly, and provide a more objective window looking in at how you look at the world and yourself.
A significant shift in release of government data came in mid-2009, with the United States’ launch of Data.gov. It’s a comprehensive catalog of data provided by federal agencies and represents transparency and accountability of groups and officials. The thought here is that you should know how the government spends tax dollars. Whereas before, the government felt more like a black box. A lot of the data on Data.gov was already available on agency sites scattered across the web, but now a lot of it is all in one place and better formatted for analysis and visualization. The United Nations has something similar with UNdata; the United Kingdom launched Data.gov.uk soon after, and cities around the world such as New York, San Francisco, and London have also taken part in big releases of data.
The collective web has also grown to be more open with thousands ...