Stephen E. Arnold: The [MIT] Observatory of Economic Complexity

Commercial Intelligence, Earth Intelligence
Stephen E. Arnold
Stephen E. Arnold

The Observatory of Economic Complexity

The future of search may just be here, in the form of a specialized search engine courtesy of MIT (quelle surprise!) The Observatory of Economic Complexity (ECI) is the result of a 2010 Master Thesis in Media Arts and Sciences by one Alexander Simoes, and enjoys the continuing support of the MIT Media Lab‘s consortia for undirected research. A history of the project’s contributions is available on Github. Some technical details from the project’s FAQ page:

“Where does the data come from?

“The observatory provides access to bilateral trade data for roughly 200 countries, 50 years and 1000 different products of the SITC4 revision 2 classification. For historical SITC classification data, we use data from The Center for International Data from Robert Feenstra. For up to date HS classification data, we use data provided by UN COMTRADE.

“Can I download this data?

“Sure! You can download the latest dump of the entire data (in MySQL format) here. Or if you are looking for data on a particular country or product, you can click the CSV download button on the right-hand side of all explore pages.”

The rest of the FAQ page lets users know how they can help the project improve by contributing translations, correcting errors, and reporting bugs. Besides the search functionality, there’s a Rankings page listing countries by their current ECI values. The site also offers profiles of different countries’ economic activity. As of this writing, though, I can’t seem to pull up a profile of a specific country, but rather click through a series of what seem like randomly presented entries. An interesting way to kill a few minutes of time, but not so good for finding specific information. If that’s a bug, I hope it’s fixed soon. If it’s a feature… I hope it’s fixed soon.

One more thing to note about this project—it has the potential to inform global policy in ways that make life better around the world. Their book “The Atlas of Economic Complexity: Mapping Paths to Prosperity” makes the case, and is free to download. Said a World Bank chief economist in 2011, “The ECI can play a very important role. It can help identify the role for developing countries.” We do hope the Observatory will live up to its potential.

Cynthia Murrell, March 26, 2014

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