the kdmcinfo weblog

Introducing freeDive: Searchable databases for everyone

Imagine you have a spreadsheet of campaign contributions or crime statistics that you want to share. For years, you had to pay for a service or know how to code to build searchable databases of that information. You shouldn't have to do that.

freeDive is a simple way for anyone make data searchable on the Web. The tool gives your users powerful tools to search and play with that data. 

You don't need to program anything. We built a simple wizard that uses the Google Visualization API. It pulls data from a Google spreadsheet, builds a table and creates filters that users can interact with. freeDive then gives you an embeddable widget that you can paste in any Web page. 

And, if you can learn a few spreadsheet tricks, the world of real-time data is at your users' fingertips.  

Why now?

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. 

We have prepared some videos to help you use the tool. The following shows an example of what freeDive can do using nearly 25,000 contributions to California Governor Jerry Brown's 2010 election campaign.


Create a search widget in less than five minutes

The freeDive wizard walks you through the process of creating your search widget. It boils down to a few simple steps:

  • Upload your spreadsheet to Google Docs
  • Publish it
  • Enter your spreadsheet ID into freeDive
  • Select the columns that you want to use
  • Write a few labels to help your users

We take care of the rest. This video explains the process.


So what are the problems?

We started work on freeDive in October. It's still a very young product. It has been stable during our testing, though we recognize there are several design and user interface issues that need to be addressed. We also want to streamline the code and make it more elegant.

freeDive works in modern browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Safari) on Windows and OS X, as well as in Internet Explorer 8 and 9, but it occasionally breaks in Internet Explorer 7. Once we iron out these kinks and make the transition to Beta, we will make the code publicly available.

Beyond the basics

There are a ton of potential uses that we have yet to document. For example, Google allows the use of some HTML in spreadsheet cells so you can add images and links and make your table more interactive.

Google Spreadsheets also has specialized functions that work with data on the web. You can load real-time financial data or load data directly from host sites. Imagine making a searchable database and using it for years as it updates automatically.

We'll roll out examples as time permits but for now, check out this real-time feed of river data from Leave the fields blank and click Search.