Using Internet Data for Economic Research

Edelman, Benjamin. “Using Internet Data for Economic Research.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 26, no. 2 (Spring 2012): 189-206.

The data used by economists can be broadly divided into two categories. First, structured datasets arise when a government agency, trade association, or company can justify the expense of assembling records. The Internet has transformed how economists interact with these datasets by lowering the cost of storing, updating, distributing, finding, and retrieving this information. Second, some economic researchers affirmatively collect data of interest. Historically, assembling a dataset might involve delving through annual reports or archives that had not previously been organized into a format ready for research: in some cases, surveying stores, factories, consumers, or workers, or in other cases, carrying out an experiment. For researcher-collected data, the Internet opens exceptional possibilities both by increasing the amount of information available for researchers to gather and by lowering researchers’ costs of collecting information. In this paper, I explore the Internet’s new datasets, present methods for harnessing their wealth, and survey a sampling of the research questions these data help to answer.