The Data Briefing: Connecting the (Data) Dots—NASA’s NYSpaceTag App

Sep 30, 2015
The Open NASA logo

OpenNASA has recently completed another redesign of their site. With over 31,000 data sets, 194 code repositories and 36 APIs, OpenNASA probably has the largest collection of open data of any of the federal agencies. An especially helpful feature is a set of icons devoted to five types of visitors: the Citizen Scientist, the Developer, the Citizen Activist, the Govvie and the Curious.

A great feature to engage NASA’s audience is the Data Stories section where people talk about the projects they created with NASA datasets. NASA’s Data Portal has also been redesigned to help users discover datasets, APIs and visualizations more easily. Developers should check out the SODA API development tutorial to learn how to access NASA APIs.

NYSpaceTag’s solution enables users and government organizations to add and locate meaningful metadata and concepts that can better leverage data assets that may initially appear unrelated. It allows government agencies to see how their data is being used across different organizations and maximizing the impact of the collected information.

To see some great examples of apps built with NASA APIs, check out the Innovation Space section. You can browse through the solutions created with NASA’s open data during NASA Challenges. I especially like the NYSpaceTag, which is a “tagging system that extracts natural keywords from titles and descriptions. It allows users to explore concepts, see related concepts and drill down directly into the data.” NYSpaceTag uses “fuzzy searching” to find keywords and related concepts and to display the results in an easy-to-navigate visual graph.

This is a great solution not only for NASA’s data but for all federal agencies. Many agencies have large datasets that are isolated from each other, which makes searching across the databases difficult. It is also challenging to use search terms that are universal enough to span the databases, but not too general that the query retrieves irrelevant data. As more agencies release data, and the data inventory on Data.Gov continues to grow, the need to better index and search the datasets is vital.

Data Tools Needed

Not just the keyword search or even the “related to” conceptual searching is enough. A tool that can display how data from one agency could be connected to another agency’s dataset to derive a complete picture of the subject would be ideal: for example, how the Department of Transportation (DOT) road maintenance grant information can be connected to Bureau of Labor Statistics survey data. This combination of data can demonstrate the link between DOT grant funding and optimal hiring levels in the local construction industry.

Open data is a great start, but the real promise lies in the innovations that are created when developers and citizens can create insights by connecting the dots between the federal government’s datasets.Each week, The Data Briefing showcases the latest federal data news and trends. Dr. William Brantley is the Training Administrator for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Global Intellectual Property Academy. You can find out more about his personal work in open data, analytics, and related topics at All opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of the USPTO or GSA.

Want to read more great content like this? Sign up for our daily or weekly DigitalGov newsletter!