U.S. Census Bureau

The U.S. Census Bureau serves as the leading source of quality data about the nation's people and economy, including age, education, income, and race. Best known for its decennial census, the Census Bureau also conducts a variety of surveys each month, quarter and year on households and businesses. Such data are extremely valuable, but being able to cost-effectively distribute it to other government agencies, corporations, academic and research institutions, and the general public historically has not been easy. Performing analyses against that data has been equally difficult and expensive.

By the early 1990s, however, the concept of offering all decennial census data online and allowing users to interactively query the full- and long-form data files gained momentum both at the Census Bureau and at external research institutions, such as the University of Michigan's Population Studies Center. Making this information easily accessible to people of all skill levels would greatly expand the understanding and usage of the socioeconomic data. Additionally, the Census Bureau also hoped to gain a computing platform that could be updated with new survey data without requiring huge computing and resource investments.

In 1994, Dr. Albert Anderson, Ph.D., founder of PDQ, and Dr. Reynolds Farley, Ph.D. Research Professor at the University of Michigan's Population Studies Center, successfully demonstrated to the Director of the Census Bureau that massive census files could be accessed interactively on modestly priced commercial hardware. PDQ was then asked to develop a broader application that would give select researchers interactive access to a total of 300+ million records - an unprecedented milestone for the agency.

Working in conjunction with IBM, PDQ tested and refined the pilot application for two years. The Census Bureau was very pleased with the results and subsequently leveraged the demonstrated capabilities of PDQ-Explore to develop the Advanced Query System, the underlying technology for the interactive portion of the American FactFinder application that is now found on the U.S. Census Web site.

The development of the American FactFinder application and the use of concepts from PDQ-Explore to disseminate information from massive public data sets was truly a breakthrough innovation for the Census Bureau. Users of all skill levels -- located anywhere in the world - can now quickly access and query the latest U.S. public data sets using just a Web browser.