Friday, March 18, 2011

Book Review: Data Sources Handbook by Pete Warden

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

While this bills itself as covering 'the most useful sources of public data available today" and that "You’ll find useful information on APIs" what this really is a sampling of a small number (57) sources and an example of its use. The information given is terse, and you will find yourself having to Google the documentation to get good use of the source, and probably use Google to find more sources.

I was interested in the Data Source Handbook because many of my models require a range of setting specific data as well as data that is available publicly, if I can get it an put it into a useable form. And looking at it, it provides many examples of available data sources. But these are all fairly specific as presented, so I'd probably end up having to search to find out if what I want is actually available.

The limitations of the presentation are more apparent if I look at one source I have actually used before, the Google Maps API. Warden shows an example of submitting an address and getting a result, and also mentions that you can do reverse geocoding, but he does not describe what information is in the geocoding results (only displays a small portion of them), or the fact that there are many other result sets (such as directions, distances, elevation) that can be returned using the Maps API.

The other way that someone can have a problem with this is that it makes an assumption about the reader without stating it, specifically that the reader is a proficient at programming for the web (i.e. someone whose is primarily a computer programmer as opposed to someone who programs because they need to get something else done.) It comes up because it assumes that you recognize a JSON result set as well as some internet utilities (e.g. curl) which are presented without explanation. It could have been greatly improved by having a one page 'how to use this book' section in the introduction that gives pointers on what is assumed you know before presenting the material.

In the end, if you don't know what you are doing with programming for the web, this book is only useful as a guide so you have an idea of what can be found. Even if you had this book, you probably are going to end up using Google to understand the capabilities of the sites that it does cover, and it cannot be that comprehensive because it is so small.

More information on this book can be found at the book website at Data Source Handbook at

I received this as a free ebook as part of the Oreilly Press Blogger Review Program

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

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