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8/8/2013
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DataMarket Aims To Be A Google For Numbers

Boston startup uses visualization algorithms to take data in disparate formats and let it be displayed together.

5 Big Wishes For Big Data Deployments
5 Big Wishes For Big Data Deployments
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When new technologies outstrip markets, people develop new skills and new tools to catch up.

Data analytics is no exception. As big data turns into everyday data, companies are forced to figure out how to make it accessible to a broader set of workers.

One emerging tool is DataMarket, a hosted visualization and dataset management tool. Based in Boston, the five-year old startup offers a searchable set of about 130 public data sources that offer mostly macroeconomic data. DataMarket uses visualization algorithms to take data in disparate formats and let it be displayed together.

To find, for example, the last time U.S. gross domestic product was above 6% for an entire year, I typed in "U.S. GDP growth." I got four results, the first from a World Bank dataset for GDP growth worldwide since 1961. Oddly, when I clicked the link it showed me a line chart for GDP growth in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but it was simple to change to the U.S.

[ Avoid wasteful big data projects. Read When Big Data Equals Big Money Waste. ]

The data can be displayed in a variety of formats. I found columns made it easiest to see the trends, showing that 1984 was the last year U.S. GDP growth was above 6%, or even above 5%; the best year since 1984 was 1999, when the Internet bubble inflated growth to 4.9%.

Not all results are necessarily links to public data; some searches surface sponsored links to proprietary databases. DataMarket also uses The Guardian's application programming interface to pull Guardian stories into the visualization, so you see what news items might have affected the data.

The company got its start in 2008, when Hjalmar Gislason thought to himself, "Wouldn't it be great if there were a Google for numbers, where you could search for data but also visualize, compare and download?" Of course, there already was a Google for numbers, namely, Google. But Gislason says he hopes someday people will think of his site in that vein.

For now, the focus is on the corporate market. Companies can combine the public data sources in DataMarket with their own datasets and data purchased from proprietary vendors.

"What DataMarket can do that we can't do is combine internal data sets with external data sets and let you do comparisons," said Dennis Philbin, CEO of Lux Research, a DataMarket customer. "That's very powerful and that's a big problem."

He said many of Lux Research's customers are not Excel power users, so DataMarket makes it easy for them to get data visualizations. It is not a business intelligence tool, but "it lets somebody who's not an expert at data analysis get pretty sophisticated looks at data," Philbin said.

He thinks CIOs would find it useful, especially at large companies that employ scores of market analysts to parse different data sets. Right now, he said, such companies employ data analysts or third parties to pull these data sets into similar formats for the market analysts. DataMarket reduces the need for that kind of busy work.

DataMarket has a good idea, but a ways to go, said Greg Sterling, an analyst at Opus Research in San Francisco, in an email. "Right now the site is not easy to use and its data are incomplete. It often returns no search results. The Google of data it's not," he said.

Sterling also said other data-oriented sites such as Statista were much easier to use.

Gislason acknowledged there are gaps in his site's data, a reason why he's focused on companies, which "allows us to integrate all the data that really matters to the people we're selling to," he said.

Gislason started the company in Iceland, where his technical team remains. He has raised $1.2 million from private investors and an institutional investor, and Gislason said the company is on pace for $2 million in revenue this year. It recently signed a seven-year deal with ProQuest, which will use DataMarket's technology to underpin ProQuest International DataSets, a tool it will offer to universities. ProQuest expects this will be the first of a series of products it will create with DataMarket.

The big data market is not just about technologies and platforms -- it's about creating new opportunities and solving problems. The Big Data Conference provides three days of comprehensive content for business and technology professionals seeking to capitalize on the boom in data volume, variety and velocity. The Big Data Conference happens in Chicago, Oct. 21-23.

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