Big Data

Commerce opens school for data

Shutterstock image (by wavebreakmedia): doors opening to data streams.

The Commerce Department has long had many terabytes of useful data available to the public and industry, from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather info to the Census Bureau's population surveys.

Now the agency wants to show people what to do with it.

On Jan. 28, Commerce took a big step toward better enabling citizens to use agency data by launching the Commerce Data Usability Project.

"Data by itself is useless," noted Commerce's Chief Data Officer Ian Kalin at FCW's big data event in December. "We have to build stuff on top of it."

The Data Usability Project portal aims to help Americans do just that.

At launch, the portal contains four usability tutorials, covering data from NOAA, Census and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Each tutorial lays out the available data and the formats the data come in, as well as providing suggestions for ways various entities could actually use the data meaningfully.

"Our data team, many of whom used Commerce data in prior jobs, believed that developing tutorials like this would help users understand and navigate some of the complexity found in some of these data sets," said Commerce spokesperson Jason Kuruvilla. "The other purpose was to showcase some examples of how this data could be used for inter-disciplinary purposes (i.e. using satellite imagery to analyze demographic information in cities)."

Kuruvilla noted that the tutorial website was among the first such dedicated site in government, and said he hopes other agencies follow Commerce's lead to teach citizens how to use their data.

Commerce has more tutorials planned, including private-sector partner presentations.

Microsoft, Zillow and other companies also will be rolling out tutorials, hosted on Commerce's site, over the coming months showing how they use Commerce data in their operations.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a former FCW staff writer.

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