More Data, More Problems

about usability, data, gov.

The potential of ‘Big Data’ as a game-changer in practically every field is today’s online golden goose. “If only,” the articles cry, “we had enough data scientists to reap in the golden eggs!”

In this article on, however, Scott Brave makes a sell for not just more data scientists, but also frameworks and systems that “make big data directly accessible to business leaders;” in short, he wants to make big data usable.

Brave is talking about taking the most common tasks and applications associated with big data and turning them into turn-key apps, much like disparate, hard-coded web content was transformed into content management systems that allowed non-techies to set-and-forget the code behind their dynamic web content. He maintains that a majority of the tasks of a data scientist could be streamlined and made into tools for the non-specialist user.

This would be a great step forward for bringing data to more minds, hopefully sparking great new uses and applications. But let’s not forget that there’s still more basic work to be done in getting to the data in the first place: the terabytes of government and other data sitting under-used and unconnected to big data analytics.

There are tons and tons and tons of spectacular government data out there that could be very useful for both business and We the People, but it languishes for lack of focus on accessibility, standards and user interface strategy. While we’re thinking about big data usability, let’s remember the basic data integration and standards work that needs to be done to make the ingest side of the data problem as robust as the analytics side. We need to support the vital work of groups like GEO (Group on Earth Observations) that are providing the international political will to make data fully and openly available to the benefit of society, and ISO (International Organization for Standardization) that are making sure data and metadata are interoperable.

A final note on usability and government data: there is good work already being done. Projects like Apps for America, and winners such as DataMasher are good initial first steps. Now let’s keep walking!

Feature image Bear Canyon near Tucson, Arizona
Source Michelle Hertzfeld