Finding Data in a Big Data World
When it comes to map-making for beginners, one of the most challenging aspects is finding the right data in the first place. You start out with this fantastic idea for mapping the annual airplay frequency of Mariah Carey on traditional radio… only to find the data behind a paywall. What’s with that?
Turns out, it’s very common. Data is commonly referred to as the most valuable resource on the planet for a reason. Companies make a lot of money by collecting data and selling it or selling indirect access to it. So, before you get too excited about an idea, take a step back and think about the data.
Where to Find Data
There are a lot of reasons why paying for data may not be an option for you and we’re not here to judge, so moving along.
When you’re not able to pay for data, you’ll need to be less choosy about what you’re creating. This type of data hunting is a more broad search, find some data, then let it speak to you! You may need to be a bit more creative, but free data is out there and if you’re willing to dig you can still create wonderful maps with it!
The first thing to consider with how to find data is where in the world are you looking for it. Developed countries often give public access to census data or other government-funded research. This can often be the most reliable data as well. Something to consider when thinking about the data you’re looking for.
Think How Big
The size of your project scope can also have a big impact on where you try and find data. If you’re looking for data only on one country, that will be a lot easier to find (in general) than the same data for every country in the world.
You can often find high-level data (think population) at a national global level, but if you go more granular (think language spoken) it could get more difficult to find. There also would be a lot more variables if you chose language spoken globally, this could affect how you ultimately portray the data.
Another consideration is from which point in time you want to collect data. Depending on when in history you’re looking, it can be either very difficult or very easy to find data. Keep in mind that this changes when you look at different countries around the world.
In general, anything in the 1900s forward in developed countries should have some data. But depending on when specifically and what you’re looking for there could be a lot of range.
This ultimately goes back to the point made above about letting the data guide you. You may not be able to create the exact map you thought you were going to create when you started thinking about the project. Often you’ll find you come up with something even better!
Still don’t know where to start? Try some of these helpful links for easily accessible data!
- Google Dataset Search
- Kaggle Datasets
- US Gov Open Data
- Datahub.io Collections
- NASA Earth Data
- CERN Open Data Portal
- World Health Organization (WHO) Global Health Observatory Data Repository
Wherever you find it, Use Avenza Systems to Create It!
Whatever Adobe environment you prefer to work in, Avenza has a solution for you!
Avenza MAPublisher is cartography software that seamlessly integrates more than fifty GIS mapping tools into Adobe Illustrator to help you create beautiful maps. Whereas Avenza Geographic Imager mapping software enhances Adobe Photoshop to make working with spatial imagery quick and efficient.