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Learning About Data.gov

Data.gov seeks to organize all of the U.S. government's data, a daunting and unfinished task. In this module, learn about the powers and limitations of Data.gov, and what other resources to use to fill in Data.gov's gaps. The Obama Administration started Data.gov as a clearinghouse for the government information stored on dozens of federal websites.

As of this writing, Data.gov links to about 400,000 different data sets. That might sound like a lot, but it's far short of all the data the government has available.

Indeed, if you search Data.gov and don't find the information you seek, try specific agency websites, which can sometimes host more current data than what Data.gov has available.

Raw data

Searching Data.gov is easy. Start by clicking the "Data" tab and then select "Raw Data." The resulting page displays data sets you can browse, along with methods of filtering the data sets, such as by type, agency, category, topic and more.

Of course, we can also search for specific data. Let's start by searching for "economic assistance."

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Although this data set is available as a CSV, or comma-separated value file, others might download as Excel spreadsheets, XML, KML (a Google maps format), SHP or Shapefiles (also for mapping) or any number of other types.

Interactive data

Depending on your needs, you might only want to look up information, rather than download raw data that you have to manipulate.

For this reason, Data.gov provides some information as interactive databases. Click the "Interactive Datasets" button at the top of the page. Again we'll search for "economic assistance" and you'll see "Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance" atop the list of results. Click the link to launch the interactive database.

Within the interactive database, you can filter results and export the data you need, as shown here:

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Geodata

Another type of data found on the site is useful for mapping. Known as "Geodata," these data sets can be found, unsurprisingly, by clicking on the "Geodata" button at the top of the page.

Geodata are distinct for other data sets only in that contained within them is geographical information, such as latitude and longitude, county names or other information that can be useful in mapping.

Other resources

Data.gov is a useful, if imperfect, website. So, to augment Data.gov, here are some additional resources for data that Data.gov might not offer: