KDMC Releases ‘freeDive’ — Searchable Databases For Everyone, No Coding Required

The Knight Digital Media Center at the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, acknowledging that people are hungry for data, has launched a simple tool that makes it easy to turn data into searchable databases. The tool, freeDive, uses the Google Visualization API to pull data from a Google Spreadsheet and generate an embeddable widget that you can drop onto any page — no coding required. You can see an example here.

The video below shows you the end result of a database that includes name, city and donation amount for 25,000 campaign contributors (meaning the tool scales well for large amounts of data).

The output for the example above is quite interactive:

  • You can input a search query and load results quickly
  • You can further filter those results with a secondary search field
  • You can change the range of your results with a slider that updates results in real time
  • You can rearrange any column by changing the sort order (highest to lowest, lowest to highest, etc.)

In an announcement blog post, KMDC says:

People are hungry for data. The Texas Tribune found that searchable databases on politics, government salaries and other subjects generate around two-thirds of it’s traffic.

We’re launching freeDive as an Alpha product so you can build the kind of interactive stories that readers want.

The back end of things

In order to get to a finished project like the example above, you need to use freeDive’s wizard.  I’ve created a sample table that you can use if you just want to muck around and get comfortable. To give you an idea of how simple it is, I’ve outlined the steps below:

  1. Clean up your spreadsheet. They have a tutorial on cleaning your data, as does ProPublica.
  2. After your data is clean, publish your Google spreadsheet (and automatically set it to republish when changes are made)
  3. Share your spreadsheet with “Anyone who has a link” in the share settings
  4. Copy the unique ID from the address bar and paste it into KDMC’s test form
  5. If your spreadsheet is valid, you select which columns you want to include
  6. Next, you match values from your columns of data to labels on the output form. (You can only create one additional filtering option, however. If you have names, contribution amounts, city and occupation data, you can only additionally allow users to see either city OR occupation data, but not both).
  7. Then you set your own labels to match the data you have and what you want users to search for
  8. Choose the width and height
  9. Grab the embed code!

“No coding required” — a good or bad thing for journalism?

While I love that the tool makes it easy for any ol’ editor to plop a spreadsheet into a program and output a searchable database, I often wonder what it means for the future of data journalism. Hopefully tools like freeDive will make it easier for people to quickly generate new ways of telling stories. Once people in the newsroom realize what’s possible, they’ll can start cooking up even more ways to tell stories data, and want to learn how to build tools themselves.

What are your thoughts? Is “no coding required” a good or bad thing for expanding journalists’ development skills?