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I always make the point that data is everywhere – and that a lot of it is free. Companies don’t necessarily have to build their own massive data repositories before starting with big data analytics. The moves by companies and governments to put large amounts of information into the public domain have made large volumes of data accessible to everyone.

Any company, from big blue chip corporations to the tiniest start-up can now leverage more data than ever before. Many of my clients ask me for the top data sources they could use in their big data endeavour and here’s my rundown of some of the best free big data sources available today.

Data.gov http://data.gov

The 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.

US Census Bureau http://www.census.gov/data.html

A wealth of information on the lives of US citizens covering population data, geographic data and education.

European Union Open Data Portal http://open-data.europa.eu/en/data/

As the above, but based on data from European Union institutions.

Data.gov.uk http://data.gov.uk/

Data from the UK Government, including the British National Bibliography – metadata on all UK books and publications since 1950.

The CIA World Factbook https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/

Information on history, population, economy, government, infrastructure and military of 267 countries.

Healthdata.gov https://www.healthdata.gov/

125 years of US healthcare data including claim-level Medicare data, epidemiology and population statistics.

NHS Health and Social Care Information Centre http://www.hscic.gov.uk/home

Health data sets from the UK National Health Service.

Amazon Web Services public datasets http://aws.amazon.com/datasets

Huge resource of public data, including the 1000 Genome Project, an attempt to build the most comprehensive database of human genetic information and NASA’s database of satellite imagery of Earth.

 Facebook Graph https://developers.facebook.com/docs/graph-api

Although 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). 

Gapminder http://www.gapminder.org/data/

Compilation of data from sources including the World Health Organization and World Bank covering economic, medical and social statistics from around the world.

Google Trends http://www.google.com/trends/explore

Statistics on search volume (as a proportion of total search) for any given term, since 2004.

Google Finance https://www.google.com/finance

40 years’ worth of stock market data, updated in real time. 

Google Books Ngrams http://storage.googleapis.com/books/ngrams/books/datasetsv2.html

Search and analyze the full text of any of the millions of books digitised as part of the Google Books project.

National Climatic Data Center http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links#loc-clim

Huge collection of environmental, meteorological and climate data sets from the US National Climatic Data Center. The world’s largest archive of weather data.

DBPedia http://wiki.dbpedia.org

Wikipedia 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. 

Topsy http://topsy.com/

Free, comprehensive social media data is hard to come by – after all their data is what generates profits for the big players (Facebook, Twitter etc) so they don’t want to give it away. However Topsy provides a searchable database of public tweets going back to 2006 as well as several tools to analyze the conversations. 

Likebutton http://likebutton.com/

Mines Facebook’s public data - globally and from your own network - to give an overview of what people “Like” at the moment.

New York Times http://developer.nytimes.com/docs

Searchable, indexed archive of news articles going back to 1851. 

Freebase http://www.freebase.com/

A community-compiled database of structured data about people, places and things, with over 45 million entries.

Million Song Data Set http://aws.amazon.com/datasets/6468931156960467

Metadata on over a million songs and pieces of music. Part of Amazon Web Services.

I hope this list is useful and you now agree with me that a lack of data is not a valid excuse for delaying any big data initiatives? Also, feel free to comment and add any other of your free big data sources to this list using the comment field below.

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As always, I hope you enjoyed this post. For more, please check out my other posts in The Big Data Guru column and feel free to connect with me via TwitterLinkedInFacebookSlideshare and The Advanced Performance Institute