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New Functionality

2009 May 8

We want Data Finder to be as useful as possible. What functions or features would make Data finder more useful to you?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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33 Responses leave one →
  1. September 1, 2009

    I like the layout it’s clean and fairly simple to navigate. It’s essentially setup like a directory to locate important information. The only suggestion that I have is to possibly create a drop down menu with parent headings and sub headings that way we don’t have to scroll down the whole page to find out the topics of the site

  2. Nick Mangus permalink
    June 5, 2009

    The list of things on Data Finder appears to have been compiled from the READ (registry of environmental applications and databases) list in the portal, but I’m not sure.

    The taxonomy needs some work (very disappointing given all of the thought that OEI has given to taxonomies recently) to make the data easier to find/understand:

    – We should add things : break air at the top level into: INDOOR and OUTDOOR.

    – I’ve never been sure of the difference between “air quality” and “air pollution”, so I don’t know that it makes sense do divide it that way. Maybe “emissions” and “air quality”.

    – It would be much easier to provide actionable comments if the taxnomony were shared with the EPA data owners.

    The main problem with the site is that the links don’t take you to data in most cases. They just take you to a web page describing a system (not the data, but the system). This is not the way for a new user coming in to understand what’s available to them! For example, the AQS link points to the web site for AQS users. (1) There’s no data on this page (yes, there’s some lower down on the same site – so why not link there); (2) AQS is only open to government (state, local, tribal) employees, so pointing here from a public site will create a lot of work for the system operators in deflecting people who want access. For the project, I compiled a list of 4 categories of air quality and emissions files (with about 215 specific available data files) that I’d be glad to forward.

    Here’s a comment that a couple of AQS users have mentioned. I think this is because AQS and AFS used to be integrated under the umbrella of AIRS, so AIRS a name that some people still user when talking about AQS. Also, I’m not sure that there’s much in AFS any more about air releaes. AFS is now owned by OECA and I think is used to track inspections and all of the data is released through other systems (ISIS, EF, etc.) so touch base with them to make sure it should even be listed. Air releases are found in the TRI and the NEI. The entry is question is: Aerometric Information Retrieval System/AIRS Facility Subsystem (AIRS/AFS) – The Aerometric Information Retrieval System/AIRS Facility Subsystem (AIRS/AFS) is a database that provides information on air releases from various stationary sources. It is available through Envirofacts.

  3. Steve W permalink
    June 4, 2009

    Modify fields for Suggested Data Sources – 2

    All items should include tool tips to assist user in completing fields. Some of these fields may take on different interpretations as data finder is presented to larger audiences. eg ‘organization’

  4. Steve W permalink
    June 4, 2009

    Modify fields for Suggested Data Sources – 1

    The field for type of service available should allow for multiple selections

  5. Steve W permalink
    June 4, 2009

    Need more links to Data Finder Home from Blog

    Recommend a link to data finder home be available on every blog page top and bottom. There is no immediate path from either entering or reading a blog comment back to data finder itself. You must navigate from a blog entry back to blog home to find a link to data finder.

  6. Steve W permalink
    June 4, 2009

    Add ability to assign category to Comment.

    Currently if one want to comment under more than a single category, you have to 1) scroll to top of page and click a link to navigate elsewhere or right click / click back, 2) Click appropriate category 3) click the comment link, 4) scroll down to leave a comment. Much more efficient to have a category selection box above box for entering this text.

  7. June 4, 2009

    Consider adding is TOXNET ( A search for it on the current Data Finder website did not find it generally, or under toxicology. This is a great site that combines a wide variety of toxicology data/websites in one user friendly location.

    Consider splitting Compliance and Enforcement into separate categories.

    Under Enforcement: consider adding a topic titled Criminal.
    Under Criminal, add a link to the Summary of Criminal Prosecutions
    which is a searchable database of concluded criminal cases.

  8. EPA Staff permalink
    June 4, 2009

    It wasn’t useful for me.
    I queried chicago’s largest treated-effluent discharge point (no quotation or punctuation marks), hoping to get at least the name of a river or lake, or a link to chicago’s wastewater treatment plants, or a map of same. i got 0 results.
    Then I queried the place where i grew up as zip code 44055, hoping to get reference to the nearby Superfund sites or air-quality penalties or at least the biggest industries there by name. . I got 0 results.
    And finally I queried deformed frog fungus. I got 0 results.

    How this search engine is organized?
    Each of the above should have led me to statistics re:
    surface water quality data (in mg/mL), or # of citations, or something
    # of heavy industries within that zip, or of companies fined, biggest polluter, effluent composition (mg/ML
    how many frog species, what types of deformations, corresponding DNA sequences, etc.

  9. Steve W permalink
    June 4, 2009

    Modify Some Fonts for Readibility with FireFox

    When viewed in Firefox, some of the text is lighter in weight and appears smaller. This is especially true in the right side bar.

  10. Steve W permalink
    June 4, 2009

    Need White Space between results. in list of datasets available

  11. Steve W permalink
    June 4, 2009

    Data Finder home page – What about Land?

    There is typically a trilogy in the minds of many EPA customers – Air, Water, Land. If for some reason, we are trying to change the mindset, we need to guide users to a new destination. ie In A-Z topics, under “L” an entry should say “See xxxxxxx”

  12. Steve W permalink
    June 4, 2009

    Eliminate circular links
    The blog’s “Contact us” page at contains a link on the right side title “Contact Us.” This is a link to the same page where the link is located. As a minimum I suggest this link at least move a user down to the lower half of the page.

    From a user’s perspective – a user clicks this link because they are looking for something, if nothing happens when they click then reputation of data finder is decreased. User most likely will believe the link is faulty. Additional if a user is clicking here they are taking a proactive step to be a partner in this activity. If we frustrate a potential customer, it is much harder to bring them back into accepting data finder at a later time.

  13. Steve W permalink
    June 4, 2009

    Blog Home page – Numbers with Mysterious Meanings –
    The right column under category, there is a number after each category. Typically this is the number of comments submitted. That does not appear to be the case. If it is not in your face obvious, then there should be an explanition.

  14. Steve W permalink
    June 4, 2009

    Properly associate e-mail comments –

    You may have partially fixed this one. If a moderator is entering a comment which arrived in form other than this blog, the entry should not inherit the association on the person who converted entry into the blog.

    You will go insane trying to maintain meaningful metrics.
    You should also go back and if possible correct early entries where a moderator entered a comment which arrived via e-mail. With the National Dialog, I believe there was a way I accomplish that task. Frightly dangerous but possible.

  15. Steve W permalink
    June 4, 2009

    Add tool tips or links to metadata for data finder –

    May be mouse overs, pop-up, links to web pages (No comment on what is acceptable within EPA or expected by end users). Example – When I expand information for a dataset there is a field “Service Enabled.” I have no idea what this term means and I see no obvious or even obscure place where I could look for assistance.

  16. Steve W permalink
    June 4, 2009

    Better Search Capabilities –
    Search results should include items where the search term is a root to a title or keyword. Example – The query for “Toxic” should include both “Toxics” and “Toxicity.”

  17. Steve W permalink
    June 4, 2009

    Inconsistent Use of Term “Topic”
    Possibly excessive manual upkeep behind the scenes

    From home page, click on link to “View all topics” Note that there are no items beginning with “B.” Now looking at second block on right hand column “A-Z Topic Index” ‘B” is selectable suggesting there are topics beginning with B, which is true.

    Next Example – Looking at first block on right hand column “Quick Finder for Most Common Topics,” second item is “Air Quality.” In the List of All Topics, “Air Quality” is not listed 9at least not under “A”.

    This strongly suggests the three different access routes (“View all topics,” “”… Common Topics,” and “A-Z …”) were manually built and are not tightly interconnected. This will only become harder to manually maintain in the future not easier.

  18. Steve W permalink
    June 4, 2009

    Do NOT forget the digital divide –
    Designing for digital natives must not leave out those less comfortable or less experienced.

  19. Steve W permalink
    June 4, 2009

    Better Navigation for New Comments –
    If submitting multiple comments, after submitting the firsrt comment, there is no obvious route how to submit a second comment.

  20. EPA staff permalink*
    June 2, 2009

    General Comments:
    – The information is very informative and written in a user friendly format. As someone new to the agency, with no previous knowledge of these topics… I found the definitions and links to be very easy to understand and navigate.

    Suggestion on Layout/Format:
    Maybe consider a drop down feature for each category ( IE: “AIR” would have a drop down feature to include Air Pollution , Air Quality , Climate Change, More Air Topics)
    An example of this is on … Population Reference Bureau Data Finder site

    – Is there a way to track the frequently visited topics? ( example: frequent hits on “air quality systems ” ) Maybe consider adding a “hot topic” segment to the page

    Suggestion for Functionality Regarding Additional Content:
    – Is there a place to request additional information? .. is there a way to help those that are looking for additional information ?

    – Can we track frequent searches on specific topics – -if so, a “Hot Topics” link for search topics that are most frequent may be very convenient

  21. Tom G permalink
    June 2, 2009

    I think you should have your data sources indexed and searchable by the formats available. For example, if you search for “KML”, then you receive a list of all the EPA data that is has an available KML file for Google Earth.

  22. Steve W permalink
    May 29, 2009

    Recommend change bold wording after last comment from “Leave a Reply” to “Submit a comment”.

    For a user not conditioned to ignoring what you are saying and can read your mind as to what you want, they will never be able to comment. There was a valid technical reason at one time why an off function was included with the “on” button. We are not or should not be under the same constraints.

  23. Steve W permalink
    May 29, 2009

    I have problems with the functionality using this type of blog for comments.
    1) In order to see if a concern of mine has already been covered, I need to go into each topic and read each comment. As a developer of data finder reading all comments is not a burden, as a commentor you are wasting their time. – Each comment should have a specific descriptive title.

    2) You need to urge each comment be restrictive to a single very narrow idea. As a user of datafinder comments, it clues me what I want to read or skip. As a developer of data finder it greatly simplifies the sorting and analysis of comments. Leasson learned from National dialog – several comments submitted contained information belonging under multiple topics. This total screwed up metrics of monitoring the comments.

    3) Suggest you use moderator privlidges and as appropriate a) split comments which fit two topics or b) repost comments under more appropriate topic.

  24. Lisa Jenkins permalink
    May 27, 2009

    Good start. It would be great if part of this site was all about data that could be downloaded, and used in spreadsheets and mashups. Highly recommend that you section off part of data finder for that kind of search – even if only a few data sets can fit into that type of format for now. Establish the format, and people will follow if it is reasonable and useful. Have people set up their data as web services and have you point to them – and then you really have powerful data usage!

    Also, is there any way you can tap into READ, EIMS, or other data assets that have metadata about other data? Let’s leverage what we have!

    Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

  25. Kim M. Kirkland permalink
    May 27, 2009

    When looking for specific test or analytical methodology I went to your data finder and could not find a way that linked up to any of the RCRA analytical protocals, methods, or tests for environmental measurement to make a hazardous waste determination such as this one.. I understand that the purpose of the site is to find numerical data. However the public may want to know how to generate analytical data as well.

    – Kim M. Kirkland

  26. Harvey Simon permalink
    May 27, 2009

    Great talking to you earlier today, thanks for seeking input, this looks like the start of a very nice data access page. Here’s what I was about to send when you called, which we kind of hashed through already:

    My initial reaction is that this is a good start, but the search usefulness should be beefed up considerably before going live. That would involve adding many more tags to the data sources.

    A few examples of what I tested and what I would have expected:

    I searched on “attainment” expecting to get a return that included both air (non-attainment areas) and water (use-attainment) and you only get a water database
    I’d expect to enter a term for something measured, at least for popular parameters like ozone, mercury or PCBs, but those terms yield no results.
    “Monitoring” gets no result even though it’s a browse category.

    – Harvey Simon

  27. Kevin Donovan permalink
    May 27, 2009

    1. Really like the clean look and feel to the EPA Data Finder. Easy to navigate and not crowded. (Although the Tabs at the top get lost because of the good contrast white space.)

    2. Do not see TRI prominently noted on this early version. Given the interested in TRI, would think it should be one of the top 17 under “Quick Finder for Most Common Topics”.

    3. Under “Climate Change” would suggest having some brief statement about the status of the proposed “Greenhouse Gas Rule.”

    4. If I use Quick Finder under “Chemicals” TRI does not come up.

    5. In the A-Z listing, when I click T it only lists “Toxicity”, & no TRI.

    6. Suggest TRI being available under Air, Water also. I believe it is available under Hazardous Wastes.

    7. Expand/Contract seems like a good descriptive feature but need more explanation about how the customer can make use of it.

    – Kevin Donovan

  28. Phil Ritz permalink
    May 27, 2009

    This concept needs Wiki input, to allow multiple users (EPA employees) to add data sources.

    Phil Ritz

    • August 3, 2009

      We’ve opened this up so anyone can submit potential data sources. Once we’ve reviewed them we’ll post whether or not they meet our criteria (on the web, from EPA, numerical data, data download site).

  29. Cindy Walke permalink
    May 27, 2009

    2) I tried searching on a pollutant and it seems that in order to find a database, you have to know the name of the database. To me, it would make sense to be able to find available databases based on a specific pollutant, like CO2 for example.

    – Cindy Walke

  30. Steve DeVito permalink
    May 27, 2009

    I think the site looks quite good, It seems to be refreshingly simple and intuitive.

    I couldn’t find any reference or link to the Toxics Release Inventory database, I think you need to include it. Also, I strongly recommend that you link to the National Library of Medicine’s Toxnet database. The Toxnet database is a comprehensive database of various types of chemical-related environmental and human health data. The link to Toxnet is:

    Under “Waste”, you have subtopics such as “Hazardous waste” and “Liquid waste”. The implication here is that liquid waste isn’t hazardous. I suggest you revise or rearrange this section.

    That’s all for now.

    Steve DeVito

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