There are hundreds (if not thousands) of free data sets available, ready to be used and analyzed by anyone willing to look for them. Below is a list of 35 of the most globally interesting I’ve come across, but there are many, many more in many different niches.

  1. Data.govThe US Government pledged last year to make all government data available freely online. This site is the first stage and acts as a portal to all sorts of amazing information on everything from climate to crime.
  2. US Census BureauA wealth of information on the lives of US citizens covering population data, geographic data and education.
  3. Socratais another interesting place to explore government-related data, with some visualisation tools built-in.
  4. European Union Open Data Portal the above, but based on data from European Union institutions.
  5. from the UK Government, including the British National Bibliography – metadata on all UK books and publications since 1950.
  6. Canada Open Datais a pilot project with many government and geospatial datasets.
  7. Datacatalogs.orgoffers open government data from US, EU, Canada, CKAN, and more.
  8. The CIA World FactbookInformation on history, population, economy, government, infrastructure and military of 267 countries.
  9. Healthdata.gov125 years of US healthcare data including claim-level Medicare data, epidemiology and population statistics.
  10. NHS Healthand Social Care Information Centre data sets from the UK National Health Service.
  11. UNICEFoffers statistics on the situation of women and children worldwide.
  12. World Health Organizationoffers world hunger, health, and disease statistics.
  13. Amazon Web Services public datasetsHuge resource of public data, including the 1000 Genome Project, an attempt to build the most comprehensive database of human genetic information andNASA’s database of satellite imagery of Earth.
  14. Facebook GraphAlthough much of the information on users’ Facebook profile is private, a lot isn’t – Facebook provide the Graph API as a way of querying the huge amount of information that its users are happy to share with the world (or can’t hide because they haven’t worked out how the privacy settings work).
  15. A fascinating tool for facial recognition data.
  16. UCLAmakes some of the data from its courses public.
  17. Data Marketis a place to check out data related to economics, healthcare, food and agriculture, and the automotive industry.
  18. Google Public data explorerincludes data from world development indicators, OECD, and human development indicators, mostly related to economics data and the world.
  19. Junaris a data scraping service that also includes data feeds.
  20. Buzzdatais a social data sharing service that allows you to upload your own data and connect with others who are uploading their data.
  21. GapminderCompilation of data from sources including the World Health Organization and World Bank covering economic, medical and social statistics from around the world.
  22. Google TrendsStatistics on search volume (as a proportion of total search) for any given term, since 2004.
  23. Google Finance40 years’ worth of stock market data, updated in real time.
  24. Google Books NgramsSearch and analyze the full text of any of the millions of books digitised as part of the Google Books project.
  25. National Climatic Data CenterHuge collection of environmental, meteorological and climate data sets from the US National Climatic Data Center. The world’s largest archive of weather data.
  26. DBPediaWikipedia is comprised of millions of pieces of data, structured and unstructured on every subject under the sun. DBPedia is an ambitious project to catalogue and create a public, freely distributable database allowing anyone to analyze this data.
  27. New York TimesSearchable, indexed archive of news articles going back to 1851.
  28. FreebaseA community-compiled database of structured data about people, places and things, with over 45 million entries.
  29. Million Song Data SetMetadata on over a million songs and pieces of music. Part of Amazon Web Services.
  30. UCI Machine Learning Repositoryis a dataset specifically pre-processed for machine learning.
  31. Financial Data Finder at OSUoffers a large catalog of financial data sets.
  32. Pew Research Centeroffers its raw data from its fascinating research into American life.
  33. The BROAD Instituteoffers a number of cancer-related datasets.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg. Many websites, apps, and companies that offer an API provide access to the data they collect through that API.

Forward-thinking companies that may not have the resources to begin collecting their own data right away can access this publically available data and begin asking the right questions and getting answers right away.

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