3 Sites to Visit on the Road to Data Discovery


Open data, big data, dashboards and analytics – if you have been in government for more than a month, you likely have heard discussion about how best to acquire, analyze and act on data that is relevant to your organization.

For those new to the data conversation, it can feel a bit overwhelming – similar to a truck dumping numbers onto your desk, which will take ages to sort. But it’s figuring out what those numbers are saying that makes data so powerful.

Chip & Dan Heath, authors of several bestsellers, including Switch and Made to Stick, say it this way: “Data are just summaries of thousands of stories – tell a few of those stories to help make the data meaningful.”

All those numbers aren’t just numbers. They are pointing to something bigger that is just waiting to be discovered.

To understand the power and possibilities of data, let’s look at three government websites that will blow your socks off with the data they provide.

The first thing you see when you access analytics.usa.gov is a large number with the words “people on government websites now” beneath (the number was 220,411 when I checked at 2:30 p.m. on August 15). That’s right – 220,411 people were on various government websites at that moment.

Dive in a little deeper, and you will be able to find agency-specific information. I looked at the United States Postal Service (USPS) and found…

  • Top pages viewed (USPS Home Page and USPS Tracking),
  • Peak times of web traffic (538,843 viewers between 1-2 p.m. on August 15), and
  • How people access the site (51.2% using desktops, 43.8% using mobile devices).

Why does this matter? Let’s say I manage website and mobile applications for USPS. If I know that 43.8% of users are accessing the site via a mobile device, you can be sure that I will invest time and resources in a responsive website design, mobile application updates and easy access to high-traffic pages (like package tracking – which was visited 26,804,739 in the last seven days!).

If you are involved with website or content management for your organization, this is a site you will definitely want to bookmark.

Data.gov’s home page states that it is “The home of the U.S. Government’s open data,” and, boy, is it true! You can search nearly 186,000 datasets by topic, organization, popularity or keyword. This site is a treasure trove of data just waiting for you to input some search criteria.

What really caught my attention on this site was the list of mobile applications, which are useful to government employees and U.S. citizens alike.

For example, City Data provides detailed and informative profiles of U.S. cities. You can view data on real estate prices, weather, crime, cost of living and so much more. Labor Wage Statistics “uses statistics provided by the Department of Labor to help with future career choices” and includes information based on location, occupation and industry. BankRank shows you the grades of various financial institutions across the United States based on customer complaint data.

Whether you are looking to save energy on your house (try Home Energy Saver) or want to identify a species of tree (Leafsnap is for you!), this site is bursting at the seams with usable data for your day-to-day life.

The Census Bureau is teaming with data on population, the economy and education, but what I really love is the library of infographics and visualizations that make data truly memorable.

For example, you can see…

High Resolution Graphic[Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

The site also provides tools and resources to view Census Bureau data in an interactive and meaningful way.

No matter where you are in your journey of data discovery, let these websites be a source of inspiration, innovation and information, and may you find a  sense of excitement as you uncover the story hidden just beneath your next dataset.

Lacey Scully is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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