In our first post on American Community Survey estimates in Wolfram|Alpha, we showed you how Wolfram|Alpha could answer questions about the age and sex of the population in practically any town or region in the United States. But that’s only a small fraction of what we can do with this wealth of detailed demographic data. Over the next few weeks, we’ll also share some examples of how Wolfram|Alpha can help you find and analyze information about education, income, and more.
But first, let’s take a look at two of the most frequently asked for demographic topics in Wolfram|Alpha: race and Hispanic origin. If you’ve never done so before, it’s worth taking a moment to brush up on the difference between these two concepts, in Census terminology. Although people often lump the two concepts together, race and Hispanic origin are two completely separate attributes in Census data: a person can be of any race and also be of Hispanic or non-Hispanic origin. Even with the basic data we’ve had in Wolfram|Alpha since its launch, people have regularly complained that our numbers “don’t add up”—and it’s always because they’ve added Hispanic population estimates to figures for the population by race and ended up with a figure larger than the country’s total population.
When Wolfram|Alpha launched three years ago, it did so with broad (but not very deep) socioeconomic data for most geographic places on Earth. Since then, each enhancement of this part of our knowledge base has tended to address just one type of place at a time. Sometimes we’ve added an entirely new category (like US congressional districts or school districts); other times, we’ve added a narrowly focused set of properties to an existing category (such as age pyramids for countries or home prices for US metro areas).
I’ve been proud of each of these individual features, but also frustrated by how hard it’s been to get detailed and directly comparable data for many different types of places at once—the kind of data, in other words, that Wolfram|Alpha is perfectly suited to work with.
But thanks to the outstanding work of our friends at the US Census Bureau, we’ve been able to take some big steps toward filling this “data gap.” The annual American Community Survey (ACS) is designed to replace the old long-form decennial census questionnaire, covering information about age, sex, race, ethnicity, education, income, and much more. In 2006, the Census Bureau released the first single-year ACS estimates, but only for areas with populations over 65,000; in 2008, three-year estimates came out for areas with populations of 20,000 or more; and in 2010, the first five-year estimates were released, covering every geographic area in the country.
It sounds like the setup for a stereotypical horror movie, but it’s a true story: a lone traveler—the founder of a major software company and the creator of an innovative computational knowledge engine—driving on a dark and unfamiliar road. A rental car running low on gas. It’s the 21st century, of course, so he’s got GPS—but the last few gas stations it directed him to were shuttered for the night. Should he take his chances with the next station recommended by the GPS? Should he pull over on a spooky, moonless country road and try to call other stations in the desperate hope that someone answers his call?
Well, maybe. Or he could just ask the Wolfram|Alpha iPhone or Android App “Where’s the nearest open gas station?”
We’re constantly expanding Wolfram|Alpha’s knowledge base in small ways. Sometimes we know from the start that a new feature is going to be “blog-worthy,” like pro football stats or live aircraft-tracking data. Lots of other additions are useful, but don’t seem worth crowing about too loudly. We recently added some data on each of the 94 district courts of the US federal court system, and I confess that it seemed like a project in the latter category—but it turned out to reveal some genuinely fascinating bits of information about the justice system in this country.
Most people probably don’t have a natural sense of the jurisdiction of each court—or even how many there are in their state—but an input like “California courts” will give you a summary of key stats about all the district courts in a given state, including a list of the largest cities in each of them. From there, you can click a specific court to see a map of that court’s jurisdiction and detailed information about overall caseloads and judgeships, as well as annual filings for a variety of civil and criminal case types.
We’ve posted before about Wolfram|Alpha’s ability to answer questions about US school districts and individual public schools, and you’ve given us a lot of great feedback—and even more requests to expand and enhance our school coverage.
We’ve made a few significant improvements in recent months, including the addition of nearly 30,000 private schools to Wolfram|Alpha’s knowledge base. More »