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DataPlace to the rescue.

We all need statistics from time to time, whether it's for a report, a presentation, a proposal, or to settle an argument with the know-it-all in the next office. But statistics users face two problems: finding them and using them.

Unless you're an expert, finding the right statistics can be very time-consuming, even with all the fancy search tools we have today. The general search engines (Google, Ask.com, Yahoo!, MSN Search, etc.) are inefficient with this sort of research. They will often pull up the statistic from somewhere, but it will have no context. For example, I may search for "average annual income" for a region and find it, but what I really need is the average annual income for a period of time for several locations to conduct an analysis and comparison. This is something the search engines usually won't do. In a sense, they'll show you the tree when you really need to view the entire forest. Specialized search engines (including FedStats, FirstGov.gov, and search interfaces at agency sites such as the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics) are often more precise and will get you closer to the data in context, but you still face a lot of back-and-forth inspection of complex data sets.

And finding the right statistics is only half the battle. You typically then need to analyze, organize, compare, and present the data. You need to make tables and charts that often include multiple variables. This requires strong skills with PowerPoint, Excel, and tables and charts in Word, etc., which many of us (including me) do not have. If you think it took a long time to find the data, think how much time you can spend trying to make a multivariable, color-themed chart or a PowerPoint presentation where things fly in and out as in a science fiction movie.

Easy-to-Use Analytical Tools

Fortunately, DataPlace comes to our rescue with a solution to both statistics problems. DataPlace (http://www.dataplace.org) is a statistics aggregator that gathers hundreds of commonly sought demographic, economic, business, and housing statistical series from a variety of federal data-gathering organizations. It provides several powerful but easy-to-use analytical tools for comparing and ranking data according to your specifications. Finally, it lets users save customized maps and tables for importation into their documents and presentations.

DataPlace is the product of KnowledgePlex (http://www.knowledgeplex.org), a portal for the affordable housing and neighborhood development community. KnowledgePlex, which is sponsored by Fannie Mae Foundation, Inc., was developed by a coalition of 23 public and private organizations. KnowledgePlex provides news, bulletin boards, and data collections for policy-makers and practitioners in affordable housing and community development.

DataPlace was developed as a research and analysis utility for KnowledgePlex members. Understandably, its specialty is housing and related income and financial data. However, KnowledgePlex members also need a range of general data on population, income, employment, etc. So DataPlace's wide-ranging data collection makes it appealing for anyone who needs the key data to understand the U.S. population and economy.

Most of the Stats You Need

DataPlace has more than 200 data series, produced by several major federal information gatherers. The Census Bureau is the largest contributor to DataPlace with data from the 1990 and 2000 decennial censuses, as well as much intercensus information, including population estimates and projections. Other contributors include the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Internal Revenue Service.

The DataPlace collection includes the most important and heavily used statistics for population, family structure, income, education, employment, housing, business patterns, residential business services, and federal expenditures. As befits KnowledgePlex's mission, the most detailed statistics are for housing, housing stocks, occupancy, ownership, subsidized housing, mortgage lending, etc. Most data series are divided by age, race, and other criteria. Data is provided for the U.S. at national, state, county, city, metropolitan, and census tract levels (all data sets are not available for all levels, especially the census tracts).

Maps and Charts the Easy (DataPlace) Way

Of course, the point of DataPlace is not just to accumulate data. It also makes the data easy to use, which makes DataPlace highly successful. Its analysis and presentation tools are flexible, powerful, and simple. Making charts and maps with DataPlace is so quick and efficient that it's actually fun or at least it's more appealing than the alternatives.

Basically, DataPlace lets users compare a given statistic by time (U.S. population from 1990 to 2000), by location (state family income by county), or by subtopic (poverty rate by age category). Two or more statistics can also be compared to one another (home ownership and family income in adjoining counties). DataPlace also produces rankings, which are lists of a given indicator by several location ranges (e.g., by state, by counties within a state, by all U.S. counties, etc.).

DataPlace has several methods for representing these varied statistical relationships. The map-drawing tool creates maps from the national to the census tract level, with color-coding to represent variation; users can even choose their own color from a seven-color palette. Users can resize maps with simple zoom and navigation tools. The chart-making tool is equally handy for creating simple color charts that also illustrate multiple variables. Finally, DataPlace provides a display tool called scatterplots, which visually represents the relationships between a given indicator and a range of locations. Registered DataPlace members can save or print their customized graphics. Registration is free and simple, and it provides other personalization services.

Not Having It All

Despite its wide range of important statistical data, DataPlace is still highly selective. The organizations from which DataPlace obtains its data have far more content in their respective fields. DataPlace has little or nothing on some important subjects, including prices, finance, economic sectors, politics, and any foreign data.

The Statistical Abstract of the United States (http://www.census.gov/ compendia/statab) remains the best single comprehensive online source for statistics. However, the data is presented in large, cumbersome files, and it doesn't have the analytical tools that make DataPlace so useful. DataPlace is not (and, of course, is not intended to be) a comprehensive statistical resource, but it does have an astute eye for key data. It makes it very easy for you to put the information to work.

DataPlace

SYNOPSIS

DataPlace is a highly efficient resource for finding and manipulating key statistics. It assembles current data on demographics, income, economics, housing, etc., on U.S. national and local levels. The site also provides several easy-to-use tools for creating custom maps and charts.

PRODUCER

DataPlace by KnowledgePlex, c/o Fannie Mae Foundation, 4000 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W. North Tower, Suite One, Washington, DC 20016-2804; http://www.dataplace.com.

Mick O'Leary is the director of the library at Frederick, Md., and a principal in The Data Brokers. His e-mail address is harmonyrd@yahoo.com. Send your comments about this column to itletters@infotoday.com.
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Author:O'Leary, Mick
Publication:Information Today
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2006
Words:1156
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