What's got rows and columns and sucks at data? Excel. Though to be fair, we misuse it. Excel was built for spreadsheets, but it's become most folks' go-to kit for poking at data. It's installed on your computer. It opens CSV files. It's what you know.
Of course, databases are great at data, but they're hard. Microsoft Access is limiting, and real databases like MySQL and PostgreSQL aren't the easiest things for a non-hacker to get up and running, let alone query. Learning a little SQL will make you a better reporter, but digging through many datasets from different sources can take more than "a little SQL."
Plus, it doesn't matter if you're an Excel maniac or a database jockey -- either way, the data is just sitting on your PC, invisible to your peers. Hidden data is sad data.
We live in a data-soaked sci-fi future. It's awesome. And in this future, every journalist must be a data journalist. But to get there, we need a better kit.
PANDA will help
We're trying do two things with PANDA: make basic data analysis quick and easy for news organizations, and make data sharing simple. I'll explain by example:
Let's say you've got an Excel spreadsheet of city employees with columns for first name, last name, department, position and salary. You visit your PANDA, upload the spreadsheet, give it a name, and tell PANDA it's a list of people. Once the data's in, you'll be able to search and sort and filter -- whatever you need.
Each news organization will have their own PANDA, so your data stays private while you work. And every time you add a new spreadsheet, you'll be building your newsroom's data library. So next time one of your peers is scrubbing a name, they'll be able to simultaneously search this and all the other lists of names your newsroom has collected.
That's just the baseline. We've got many more ideas, but we'd like to discuss them with you! So...
The PANDA Gang is going to be at ONA 2011 in Boston in a few weeks, and we need to hear from you! We'll be roaming the halls, camping in the lobbies and crawling the bars -- furiously taking notes about your newsroom data needs.
We'll be in the red PANDA T-shirts.