In an era of open data in government, USAFacts is a daunting undertaking with beautiful results.
From O'Reilly media's newsletter:
Steve Ballmer was looking for something to do. Connie, his wife, suggested helping with her philanthropic efforts. "But come on," he said. "Doesn’t the government take care of the poor, the sick, the old?" And if not, he wondered, where does all that tax money go?So he and a "small army of economists, professors, and other professionals" created USAFacts, a database that could well be the first nonpartisan effort to create a fully integrated look at revenue and spending across federal, state, and local governments. It was a massive effort, and it's fascinating.
What I really like about the site: it's intuitively designed for the casual data consumer. Beautiful in its simplicity, the site is surprisingly simple to navigate and built for data exploration (no complex SQL queries and coding required).
On the top of the landing page ("above the fold") it clearly states what questions you can answer with the data they've aggregated. "Where does the money go?" is much clearer to a layperson than "Total revenue v. total spending, 2015"
Then, once you click on one of the big questions, instead of listing hundreds of line items by name, they've clearly clustered the line items into categorical groupings that have easy to understand names.
And those big questions are just the tip of the iceberg - the scrolling landing page has many other "big questions" to explore.
One caveat: if you're looking for the deep details, indicator names and all, on data about the US, you're still probably better off look at the Congressional Budget Office or World Bank Data websites. But to access the rich volume of data down to the local levels that's available here, it would take you ages, and they are immensely transparent about their data mining and database development methods.
Big kudos to Ballmer and his entire team on this big undertaking, with stunning results. Share in the comments if you uncover any surprises or insights as you browse through the site.
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