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Reporter's Notebook

March 16, 2013

Database portal a nice effort, but has flaws

The new Open NY website is, on its face, a terrific idea: Take as many databases as possible and establish a single web portal for them.

The challenge is to provide effective navigation from that portal to a specific database, and on Open NY, success in that endeavor is debatable.

Getting to where you want to go can be difficult – and disappointing in the end.

For example, the site contains a link to a map purporting to show all of the retail food establishments in New York state. But click on that map and zoom in on a location, and you get alleged retail food stores that bear no resemblance to reality. The ones in eastern Otsego County appeared to be up in the hills, not in the hamlets where experience shows they are.

That’s not to say that the website is waste of time — although time is something one may need in abundance to rummage through this digital attic. It does link to a pretty good map of boat-launch sites that contains useful information, such as the number of parking spaces and whether it’s a hand- or trailer-launch site.

But neither the retail-stores map nor the boat-launch map was the subject of a specific search. They were byproducts of other searches. On data.ny.gov, what you want is not necessarily what you get.

Search for “Delaware County median income,” and you get 18 results, none of which provide median income data for the county or its subsidiary divisions. But you do get links to “Professional Medical Conduct Board Actions,” “FEC Contributions” and several databases for “Promise Neighborhoods” and “Investing in Innovation.”

For a true data nut, it’s easy to succumb to the lure of these cyber rabbit holes, but it doesn’t get one to the intended destination.

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