About this site

About this site

Hello! My name is Jon Keegan and I'm an investigative data reporter with a background in visuals. My work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Markup and MIT Technology Review.

With each issue of Beautiful Public Data, I take you deep into the archives of government agencies and surface visually interesting datasets. I explain the nature of the data, who collected it and why. I look for the unusual details, and present the images for your delight and illumination.

"A cornucopia of delights"

The Washington Post columnist Philip Bump wrote about Beautiful Public Data recently in his excellent “How to Read This Chart” newsletter:

“But as I explored that great article, I wound up discovering that the entire site is an absolute gem of content. Called Beautiful Public Data, it does what it says on the tin: takes government data and shows it to you. And it is just a cornucopia of delights that I can only assume was created specifically to appeal to my preferences.
Perhaps afraid that I would be insufficiently enthusiastic about the project, Keegan also includes snippets of explanation about how the visualizations were made and where the data came from. It really is an entirely terrific project.”

Some of the beautiful public data we have covered

The United States Frequency Allocation Chart
This crazy, beautiful chart illustrates the incredible complexity of managing one of our nation’s most crucial – and invisible – national assets: the radio spectrum.
The Style Guide for America’s Highways: The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices
Driving across America, you will encounter a wide variety of cultures, landscapes, people and animals. But the one consistent thing that will stay the same from Maine to California are the signs you pass on the highway. That is because America’s roads and highways have a big, fat style guide.
The Mirror Fusion Test Facility
A decade-long effort to build a machine to unlock the promise of nuclear fusion fell victim to budget constraints and competing science, and was shut down the day it was dedicated. It was never turned on.
The Pillbox Database
The National Library of Medicine’s Pillbox dataset contained 8,693 photographs of pills, with an accompanying database of drug information. It was built to help with the identification of unknown pills.
Special Database 18: 3,248 Mugshots Used for Training Image Recognition Systems
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has maintained a dataset of mugshot photos of 1,573 people for decades, including 175 minors, until we asked about them.
Highway Photologs
The highway departments of almost every state in the U.S. ran “photolog” programs, some dating back as early as 1961. Specialized vans with cameras documented each mile of roadway in their states.

If you know of any other cool visual information that your government collects, let me know (📫 beautifulpublicdata@gmail.com) and I’ll try to get a hold of it via public records requests where possible (like I did for many of the things you see here).

Thanks! 🖖🏻

Jon Keegan