I'm going deep on census data for the first time - the "Summary File 1" product in particular. It's basically the world's gnarliest pivot table.


There's also shockingly little high-quality, structured metadata documentation. Given its centrality and the number of folks who use it, I was expecting a more mature, and modern, set of tools. Plenty of libraries to make specific tasks easier, but no good query layer?

The hypothesis - one I plan to test - is that this stems from lack of a business model. Why go through the effort to improve things only to give it away? So, this work has probably been done 100s or 1000s of times in private.

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Is the census “big data”? It’s certainly unwieldy as distributed - it can feel like something that requires institutional resources to handle. But it’s only ~1TB, and tabular, and fully structured, which makes me think there’s got to be a Better Way.

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