In the early days of big data, "everyone scrambled to collect and store as much data as they could," said Datawheel co-founder Dave Landry. "In most cases, they didn't develop the tools needed to better understand that data. That's the challenge we are trying to tackle."
The rise of the mobile web, IoT, and APIs and modern databases paved the way for big data innovations. Everything in the world can be quantified, and those who scraped and logged early often benefitted from first-mover advantage. By making information easier to access and visualize, Landry said, big data can help businesses make faster and more intelligent decisions.
Data USA—along with its sibling products, DataViva, D3plus, and Observatory of Economic Complexity—was developed by the Datawheel API, a "visual atlas, with a lot of modern web features," Landry said. The site is the product of several years of work related to data visualization by Landry and his partners. The Datawheel product allows users to drill down to a diverse range of information sets—census data, demographic information, geo-local salary, and education background—-and visualize the information in useful charts and maps.
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In 2010, along with Cesar Hidalgo of the MIT Data Lab and Datawheel co-founder Alex Simoes, Landry collaborated on a project that visualized the UN's Human Development Index. When the project was complete, Simoes went on to study with Hidalgo at the MIT Media Lab. The duo produced the OEC, and the visualization and API framework for Data USA.
The product was popular, and it raised eyebrows with government agencies and the private sector. "[Organizations] have been trying to figure out how to visualize their data," Landry said.