Magazine article Information Today

NationMaster and StateMaster Solve Great Statistics Problem-Almost

Magazine article Information Today

NationMaster and StateMaster Solve Great Statistics Problem-Almost

Article excerpt

This should be the Golden Age of Statistics.We've been loading statistical information onto the internet since it began. Since the World Wide Web arrived and made data access easier, almost every agency or organization that creates statistics has been uploading them.

But it's still a struggle to find reliable statistics. Google and the other search engines work poorly with stats. An immense proportion of all online stats are in the deep web and known only to small numbers of informed researchers and librarians. The stats are often embedded in documents and reports and not detected by search programs. The result: Most of us find statistics only at great cost in time and, sometimes, in search fees, if we find them at all.

This Great Statistics Problem is what makes NationMaster (www.nationmaster.com) and StateMaster (www.statemaster.com) so tantalizing. They aggregate statistics from all over the web in a single location with a single interface and a common format. They gather key statistics from prominent producers worldwide on many key subjects. NationMaster covers hundreds of countries, and StateMaster concentrates on the U.S. They have an easytouse interface with several added value presentations for the statistics; they are also free and do not require registration.

A Critical Flaw?

All this sounds too good to be true, and it is. NationMaster and StateMaster have several minor flaws, which we could easily forgive. After all, nobody's perfect. However, they also have one major problem that casts doubt on their basic utility.

NationMaster and StateMaster are produced by Rapid Intelligence, a Sydney, Australia-based web design company. It also produces Factbites (www.factbites.com), a clever search engine that extracts content-rich segments from a large mass of search results (see Information Today, June 2008). NationMaster was launched in 2003 and StateMaster in 2006, in response to the Great Statistics Problem. The sites are ad-supported with a prominent ad presence on every page.

NationMaster

NationMaster (NM) covers a wide range of statistical subjects and producers. It provides more than 8,000 stats, representing important data in demographics, economics, business, trade, government, environment, energy, and society. The international scope draws upon each nation's principal statistics producers.

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For example, the U.S. includes the CIA (The World Factbook), the Census Bureau and other Department of Commerce stat agencies, and important series from other federal departments and agencies. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and think tanks are also prominently represented, including the U.N. agencies and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).The omnipresent Wikipedia also provides data. This is less troubling than it sounds since most of the Wikipedia content consists of statistical data that's been loaded without tampering from the originator. Nevertheless, even though Wikipedia is generally sound, any reliance upon it is considered suspect.

NM's principal achievement has been to arrange all this disparate data into a single interface. NM does not link to the data sources; instead, it imports data and organizes it into a common format. This is a great convenience since it provides a uniform look and feel across the entire database. NM also has other added values. For many stats, it generates pie charts and coded maps. Many series also have NM-generated correlations, showing interrelationships among separate statistics. The interface itself is intuitive, but the ever-present ads occupy plenty of page space. …

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