Building Better Lists of Country Data



April 08, 2010

Factual's English Country VisualizationOne of our most popular pages is the Text List of All Countries in the World. Strangely this little piece of data has gotten over 60k hits since we posted it and has received a wide range of very positive reactions from around the world. What started as just something that annoyed me personally (how to get an updated list of all of the World's countries in on easy to copy/paste location) proved to be something that a lot of other people were looking for too.

Now, when I first did this I didn't expect that generating a list of countries was going to be quite so controversial. Apparently, lots of folks were concerned that my list didn't contain a country that they wanted to see. Now, I didn't have a lot of time to moderate this so just settled on Wikipedia's list of countries as the final value. This I think satisfied many people.

This data should be readily provided by the UN in a machine readable fashion. There is no reason why this data (and even lists of countries that are being considered) shouldn't be made available. Countries change their boundaries & names regularly enough that there are a great many data sources that regularly need to be updated. Why not make it easy?


We do a lot of work on multi-lingual sites and it occurred to me that I don't have this list in as many languages as I'd like. I just have the English list and every list seems to be too narrow. I could get a list in English, French & Local, but not associated in a machine readable fashion associated to a country code. I have a hard enough time keeping up with this list in English, I didn't want to have to moderate this list in many different languages.

So when I first ran into Factual's data services it occurred to me that this might be a good application for better crowd sourced data. So I imported a list of countries to a Factual table and added fields for country in French & Spanish. There are many advantages to doing this:

  • Others can add multi-lingual equivalents without me
  • The list can be sorted on the fly to meet the users needs
  • Users can add countries to this list
  • Spelling & name changes can be addressed by someone else
  • All data changes are transparent
  • Users can choose my definitions of the data or popular definitions
  • We can create custom views of the data to display it in different ways.
  • Want to improve this data, feel free to join, import or merge it with others based on the country code.

This is mostly an effort to crowd source open data that I have at my finger tips and see if I can't help to produce something that is more accurate & useful for everyone. Please have a go and leave comments & feedback about this initiative here.

About The Author

Mike Gifford is the founder of OpenConcept Consulting Inc, which he started in 1999. Since then, he has been particularly active in developing and extending open source content management systems to allow people to get closer to their content. Before starting OpenConcept, Mike had worked for a number of national NGOs including Oxfam Canada and Friends of the Earth.