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March 16, 2013

Database portal a nice effort, but has flaws

By Richard Whitby
The Daily Star

---- — 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.

Maybe practice and experimentation with search terms will help make this an efficient portal, and maybe the search algorithms can be improved, but until then — however well-intended the website is — it will be of limited value to anyone but the most dedicated database miners and surfers.

The draft Otsego County Hazard Mitigation Action Plan is 580 pages, so any news story about it is limited to its high points.

But the report contains a lot of interesting information.

For example, the fastest growing town in Otsego County is Maryland, based on census data for the period 2000 to 2010. It’s also one of the least-poor, joining Middlefield and New Lisbon with just 7.3 percent of its households earning less than $20,000.

On the flip side of the coin, 26.8 percent of Oneonta city households earn less than $20,000, and the village of Milford lost 18.8 percent of its residents from 2000 to 2010.

And the village of Morris is the oldest town, with a median age of 56.1, while the city of Oneonta is by far the youngest, with a median age of 22.9, clearly the result of having two colleges.

Median family income is highest in Middlefield at $62,212, and lowest in Richfield Springs at $27,772.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the county profile is the overall population projection. The county had more than 62,000 people in 2010, but it’s expected to have fewer than 60,000 by 2040.

Also disturbing was the public participation in an online survey set up by the planning team. Just 12 people bothered to complete the survey, seven of them from Butternuts.

RICHARD WHITBY is a staff writer for The Daily Star. Contact him at rwhitby@thedailystar.com, or 432-1000, ext. 221.