I was pulling together some data for a customer following Hurricane Irene today and kept running into the same problem. Folks creating KML and GeoRSS feeds with awesome statistical data, but leaving it all mixed up with text in a description field. The folks at Google put up a really nice Hurricane Irene response map and had links to many of the layers for download. Downloadable data is awesome, but less awesome when the best data is trapped. Take for instance the Pepco power outage layer from the map; when you load up the data on how many people are affected by the power outage it is trapped in the description field with a bunch of other text. That means you can’t use that data for any kind of analysis unless you want to go parse it out as a new field. This is not Google’s fault. Pepco generated their GeoRSS with the numeric data in the description field. USGS does the same thing with their stream gauge data as you can see here. The majority of KML/GeoRSS feeds we see in the wild fall into this bad habit.
Bill Dollins tweeted out an old school power outage map for SMECO in Southern Maryland. While it lacks a sweet zoomy map it did have a table with zip codes and number of people effected. So, I could copy and paste it into a CSV and load it into GeoCommons no problem. The result was a nice thematic map of people effected by outages by zipcode. Once the numeric data is broken free you can have all sorts of statistical fun with it. So, as we get past red dot fever and just making pretty pictures online, let’s start making data portable for analysis. Get your numeric values in their own field not all junked up with your text. My plea to the KML/GeoRSS data creators of the world.
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