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Data Exploration Interfaces Meaningful Web Database Mining by Non‐Statisticians

John J. Bosley and Kathleen A. Straub


The advent of the World Wide Web has enabled government and private statistical agencies to make vast stores of data available to anyone with internet access. Historically, individuals accessing these resources were primarily academic, government or other statistically proficient professional data users. However, today any member of the public with a browser-equipped computer connected to the Internet has direct, interactive access to several large-scale databases. This "democratization" of access to data has the potential to implicitly elevate the general statistical sophistication of the public at large. To the extent that this potential is fulfilled, the increased understanding of how society and the economy can be portrayed statistically (including an historical dimension) should produce social and political benefits including more informed participation in community affairs and public decision-making. The realization of these benefits, however, will be limited by the extent to which public data users are able to confidently understand and manipulate the available statistical data, and to interpret its relevance to the information they are seeking. In short, statistical websites-as any others-need to be usable. Federal statistical agencies are aware that the transition of their user base from a small, discrete community of specialized professionals to the general public entails a responsibility beyond simply opening the doors of their data warehouses and inviting citizens to "come in and browse." There is a growing awareness of the need to build web gateways to federal data whereby nonspecialists can find and get the information they want.