Dear future NEON data users: Thanks for your input!

While we’ve released some preliminary data from newly constructed field sites, our data portal is a work in progress. We want to know what you, future users of NEON data, are looking for when you search for and download data. We’ve hired a usability firm here in Boulder near headquarters to help us systematically collect your feedback so we can use it to help make our data portal great

Back in December 2013, we asked people who came to our booth at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union to complete a survey about their interactions with external data sets (data they didn’t collect themselves but they use in their work). We also sent out the survey via email and social media and asked our staff to forward the survey link to their data-downloading friends and colleagues.

Almost 400 of you responded and gave us a ton of great input. As we promised back in December 2013, here are some highlights from the initial survey results:

Most of you who responded to the survey:

  • are familiar with NEON (79%)
  • have primarily biological, ecological or earth science expertise (78%)
  • use or reference external data (77%)
  • are academics (faculty or students, 66%) or non-University researchers (14%)
External data use by area of expertise in December 2013 data portal users survey.

External data use by respondents’ self-reported area of expertise. Blue = yes, red = no, grey = N/A.

We reached a broad range of potential data users. Great!

Some of the things we learned or affirmed about your interactions with external data sets:

  • You like to use a map or a list of locations to filter available data sets by the locations in which the data were collected.
  • To figure out whether a dataset is going to be useful to you, you tend to want to:
    • read documentation,
    • download the data and explore it,
    • or see examples of the data.
  • Some of the first things you look for with a new external data set are:
    • what the data measure,
    • where the data were collected,
    • and how the data were collected.
  • In past experiences with external data sets, you have been notably irritated with:
    • missing or inadequate metadata,
    • obscure or proprietary data formats,
    • overly large or slow downloads,
    • and an inability to selectively download data by time period, location, or other filtering parameters.

We get it. You want to know what you’re getting before you commit to downloading it.

  • The tools you are most likely to use to analyze data are:
    • Excel (62%)
    • R (57%)
    • Matlab (26%)
    • Python (23%)
    • SAS (19%)
  • Most of you (73%) who use external data end up returning to the original data source at least once to update your data with more recent or corrected data sets.

We should make it easy for you to import NEON data into Excel and R, and to stay on top of updates to the NEON data sets that you download.

Looking for more detailed survey results? Here is the full report on the data portal users survey conducted in December 2013.

Looking for more detailed survey results? Here is the full report on the data portal users survey conducted in December 2013.

Based on the initial results, our usability firm has created data portal prototypes and deployed them in two rounds of interviews with volunteers from among the survey respondents. There’ll be more opportunities in the near future to participate in data portal testing and contribute feedback. Stay tuned! We’re looking forward to hearing from you and working with you.