Managing [public] data as an asset and making it available, discoverable, and usable – in a word, open – not only strengthens our democracy and promotes efficiency and effectiveness in government, but also has the potential to create economic opportunity and improve citizens’ quality of life.- CIO Council, Project Open Data
About Our New Platform
Our mission in the Transportation Services Division of USDA is to serve as the definitive source for economic analysis of agricultural transportation from farm to market. An essential part of that goal is to distribute data and analysis of agricultural transportation in an efficient and effective way, so that our stakeholders can extract as much value out of our data and insights as possible.
We are using an open data platform, Socrata, to make our public data more discoverable, accessible, shareable and usable. We expect the open data platform will enhance collaboration around our data in a way that has never been possible before.
The next few sections describe our approach to open data, what we're trying to accomplish, and outline some key features of our platform that achieve those goals
Keep returning to this site, as we will be updating and expanding the data, charts, and stories regularly. We are constantly growing our data catalog, adding informative stories, and enhancing our visualizations. We are excited about this new platform and hope you find it to be a significant improvement to the way you interact with and learn from our data.
What is Open Data?
There are four pillars to our approach to open data.
Data is discoverable (1) when you know what you are looking for and can easily find it, and (2) when you can easily find data that is related and relevant to what you were actually looking for. For example, if you want to download rail carloading data, you are likely also interested in rail rates and service, and that data should be easy to find too.
Data is accessible when you can download it in a variety of non-proprietary, structured data formats. That way, everyone can use the data--whatever their favorite process. Some people like Excel, other people like CSVs, and other people want lots of control over exactly what they download. Accessible data does all of this.
We believe usable data has two components. First, usable data requires metadata. Metadata is just information about the data, like how the variables are defined. Without metadata, misuse or misinterpretation of data patterns is a much stronger possibility than with a complete description of what the data means. Second, data needs visualization. By itself, data is too much information for humans to glean any insight from. Moreover, visualizations should be interactive. That way, you can see and obtain insights from the data in exactly the ways that are relevant and useful to you.
Too much data analysis is done in isolation. We believe that a community around our data will be much more insightful than many isolated analysts. A collaborative data system enhances the feedback loop between us and our stakeholders and the ways they use our data. Collaboration means data users can share their visualizations and their views into the data with the rest of the community, if they choose to.
What is Socrata?
Socrata is the platform powering our open data project. It is a collection of features that each accomplish one or more of our open data goals. At its most basic, Socrata hosts our datasets and metadata, and makes everything simple to find and download. In addition to this, Socrata makes it easy for anyone to visualize and interact with those datasets to start gleaning insight. Socrata also provides pages for us to bring together many visualizations in one place to provide context and tell stories. Finally, Socrata provides a place for users to create accounts, save their favorite visualizations (while continuing to get updates to it), and even share that content with the rest of the community if they want.
Socrata is used by many other local, State, and Federal groups. It enables us to join a much larger community of data enthusiasts, and makes it easy to work with their data, integrate with our own, and start collaborating on a much bigger scale.
Head over to our "Getting Started" page for some instructions and tips about how to accomplish some common tasks, or just start clicking around the platform and diving into our content!