Networked Social Science Tools and Resources


The international Networked Social Science Tools and Resources (NESSTAR) project aimed to increase the use of statistical data about society by developing a software system to publish, locate, and browse data online. XML, an emerging standard at the time, was used to enable consistency of data description across distributed holdings.

The technologies to build virtual data libraries, in which large amounts of statistical data are made easily available to broad and diverse groups of users, were beginning to be exploited in the late 1990s. NESSTAR, a joint development project between the Norwegian Social Science Data Services, UK Data Archive, and the Danish Data Archive, was a good example of how these emerging technologies could be used.

A client server approach was taken and made full use of the desktop environment for data preservation and manipulations. The project developed a common interface on the internet with the data holdings of a large number of providers and disseminators of statistical information worldwide. By means of NESSTAR, users are able to:

  • locate multiple data sources across national boundaries
  • browse detailed metadata describing these data
  • analyse and visualise data online
  • download the appropriate subsets of data in one of a number of formats for local use; the system included advanced user authentication procedures to prevent unauthorised use of data

NESSTAR bridged this gap between metadata viewing and data analysis. As such, metadata in NESSTAR are not only used for resource discovery. As soon as a dataset is located, the accompanying XML-formatted metadata travel the Net and can be viewed in a combined metadata-data browser. In this tool, the user can easily jump from full-text descriptions of variables to statistical analysis. When analysing data, the relevant parts of the metadata will never be more that one keystroke away.

The software is available today and is utilised by a range of data organisations to publish and showcase their data.

Archive contribution

The Archive were key partners in all stages of the NESSTAR development project.

Principal investigator:  Simon Musgrave
Funder:  EC
Dates:  January 1998 - January 2000
Contact:  ESDS help desk
Links:  Final NESSTAR report
Ryssevik, J. and Musgrave, S. (2001) Social Science Dream Machine: Resource Discovery, Analysis, and Delivery on the Web, Social Science Computer Review, 19(2), pp.163-174