Tag Archives: data store

Using Google Spreadsheets as a database (no, it really is very interesting, honest)

This post by Tony Hirst should be recommended reading for every journalist interested in the potential of computers for reporting.

Why? Because it shows you how you can use Google spreadsheets to interrogate data as if it was a database; and because it demonstrates the importance of news organisations releasing data to their users.

Put aside any intimidation you might feel at the mention of APIs and query languages. What it boils down to is this: you can alter the web address of a Google spreadsheet to filter the data and find the story.

Simple as that. 

Hirst uses the example of the spreadsheet of MPs expenses recently released by The Guardian (they’ve also published Lords expenses). By altering the URLs this is what he generates (I’m quoting his bullet points):

OK, you need to know the words to use (and if you have a link to an easy reference for these let me know*), but this is still a lot easier than using programming languages and databases.

As I say, this also illustrates the importance of publishing raw data so users can interrogate it in their own ways, which is precisely what The Guardian’s Data Store has been doing, meaning that people like Tony can create interfaces like this.


*Tony has very generously created this page which helps you formulate your search – and generates the URL. If you were working on a different spreadsheet you could just replace the spreadsheet URL and change any column references accordingly.

UPDATE: Tony also has a version which allows you to pick from Guardian datasets.