Harnessing Open Data: 4 Resources To Get You Started

“Data by itself is useless… It’s only useful if it’s applied.” — Todd Park, White House CTO

Some of my best ideas, data, and information come from very unexpected sources. Sure, I can do a simple search on a topic, or look at Google Trends to see what people are interested in right now. But how do I help create something that really stands apart from all the other information available on the Internet? How do I add real value? I am always looking for new ways to accomplish this.

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I’ve found open data, corporate and government information made available to the public primarily for academic use, to be especially helpful in the ideation, brainstorming, and research phases of the content creation process.

The open data movement has simplified the process of finding accurate information. NYC OpenData, for example, has made a wealth of data generated by various New York City agencies and other NYC organizations available to the public as part of this initiative. Deloitte compiled a ton of open data uses for government, businesses, and citizens in this June 2012 report.

Do you want to find out how you can leverage open data for your content marketing efforts? Here is a handful of websites and resources to get you started.

1. Contracting And Organizations Research Institute (CORI)


CORI is a public library of more than 690,000 contract documents, available via a searchable database, brought to you by the University of Missouri – Columbia. Most of CORI’s collection comes from filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s EDGAR Database.

You might be surprised at how much insight a look into real business contracts could provide you. Let’s say you’re writing a piece on joint ventures, or mergers and acquisitions, or what goes into franchising a business. Or perhaps you’re in real estate and need to write a blog post on contract negotiations. If you are writing a case study about a specific deal and know the contract number, you can conduct an exact search using that information.

2. alpha.data.gov

“A collection of open data from government, companies, and nonprofits that is fueling a new economy.”

Although the site is in the alpha stage and a self-described “experimental work in progress,” I’ve found it to be an incredible source of data, and very user-friendly (a rarity with most government sites). It acts as a showcase for the best open data uses and resources. This is a fantastic starting point for anyone new to the open data movement.

This simple, one-page website is broken down into seven main categories, which cover a very broad spectrum:

Co = Commerce

En = Energy

He = Health

Ed = Education

Sa = Safety

Fi = Finance

De = Development

Through Alpha Data, I was able to find resources such as the Learning Registry and see what institutions such as PBS are doing:

PBS-Open Data

To me, the alpha.data.gov site is all about helping me to see see things in a new light.

3. United States Copyright Catalog

Copyright.Gov is an office of public record for copyright registration and materials, and is an important part of the office’s mission of promoting creativity by administering and sustaining an effective national copyright system. The website allows you to search for copyright records dating back to 1978. You can also look for current regulations, congressional testimony, and much more.

If you’re looking for a specific case study to include in a piece of content, you can search by company or person name, title of an article, keyword, exact phrase, or document number. The search hints are extremely helpful in helping to conduct an accurate search on the site.

I’ve found this most helpful when I am writing about a specific topic. For interactive design, for example, I can do a simple keyword search for “interactive design” to browse reports written on the topic, learn more about authors who have written on the topic, etc.

Copyright Office-Interactove Design-Example

4.  OpenData By Socrata

Socrata is a for-profit company focused exclusively on democratizing access to government data. They offer turnkey solutions, and have helped bring a lot of governments’ and agencies’ data online (World Bank, New York City, and Medicare, to name a few).

Their open data section has extensive search and filtering capabilities, and can be a very powerful tool. It’s really valuable for both a narrow, topic-specific search, or if you’re just browsing for ideas.

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Socrata also has a library of open data resources that can be helpful for ideation. Check out their Top 10 Datasets for good examples of delivering what would’ve otherwise been relatively dry and boring data to read through in creative and interactive formats:


Their blog also provides some good insight into how open data can be leveraged (like this example: 21 Open data Innovations from 2012).

Going Further

Although its popularity has increased over the last year, the open data movement is not new. Tim Berners-Lee gave an interesting TED Talk three years ago explaining a wide variety of practical and innovative uses for open data:

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If you’re interested in learning more about how you can use open data in content creation, check out the Open Knowledge Foundation’s School of Data, an online community of people who are passionate about using data to improve our understanding of the world — in particular, journalists, researchers, and analysts.

You can also follow and get involved with the #OpenData conversations on Twitter or Google+, the community on Reddit, or get involved with the Open Knowledge Foundation in a variety of ways.

What are some of the best uses of open data you have seen? Do you use any other resources?


Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Content Marketing | Content Marketing | Content Marketing Column


About The Author: is the Co-Founder and CMO of BlueGlass Interactive, an Internet marketing agency specializing in data-driven content marketing strategies.

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  • http://twitter.com/BrennanJean Jean Brennan

    Excellent article, examples, and links. A lot of work had to have gone in to preparing this. Thank you for sharing.

  • http://twitter.com/chriswinfield Chris Winfield

    Glad you found it helpful Jean, thanks for the comment!

  • YourDigiGirl

    Chris, this post was like a little slice of heaven pie to me, a data nerd. Seriously though, probably the best collection of resources I’ve come across – (and all in one handy post!) – for the data-driven content crowd. I will admit a bias in thinking that all content strategists should be data-driven…or at least consider it to be one of their “top 3″ tools for topic generation, right?

    Thanks for your time and research spent on a very helpful post, Chris. I’ll be sure to share it. :)


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