About Nate Williams

I’m Nate Williams, co-founder of Flex.io and a few other startups.

I’m a data professional, city dweller and amateur oneironaut. I love new ventures, good design, landscape-changing innovation, cultural history and backpacking in the hinterlands.

Entries by Nate Williams


In my previous post, I covered some recurring themes from our conversations with different user communities in the data ecosystem, which highlight common facets of data projects. But different user communities also have their own distinct inclinations when it comes to working with data. We’ve had the pleasure of talking with users from a range of communities and learning about their data projects.  Although there’s some overlap, generally, you could categorize these groups as: 1) Enterprise IT professionals, 2) Data journalists, and 3) Full-stack and back-end Web developers. Here are some insights we’ve...

As we’ve progressed through our private beta, one of the most fruitful activities has been talking with folks in different user communities about their data projects. This has had a profound impact on our product vision and roadmap (including a few major pivots). A number of themes have come up again and again, so we thought it would be useful to distill this down to a few of the most significant points. We’ll cover the major themes in this post and then turn to some insights we’ve gained from different user...

Ah, remember the query builder? In the brief history of the data ecosystem, the query builder already seems like a relic of a bygone era. Compared to predictive analytics, machine learning, and all the innovation going on around Big Data, the query builder is hardly a shiny new thing. Basically, you could say it’s an old interface for old data technologies. And yet the query builder has hardly gone away. Considering that there are millions of business users and data analysts using legacy BI systems or (gasp!) Microsoft Access, it’s still one of...

Over the summer, we embarked on a research project to learn more about data journalism and how data journalists work with data. We’ve had the pleasure and privilege to speak with a wide range of veteran data journalists about their work.  These conversations have been insightful and, frankly, inspirational.  We’ve heard about Chicago-based investigations on criminal justice from Matt Kiefer and Jonah Newman, discussed the role of an editor in data projects  with a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, Manny Garcia, and learned about sites like Joe Germuska’s Census Reporter that help journalists...

During our summer research project, we’ve had the pleasure of interviewing over 15 data journalists about their work so far.  And while we’ve been hearing fascinating stories and learning a lot about how they work with data, we also wanted to put some numbers to these conversations. Enter our Data Journalism Survey. This past month, we surveyed a sample of 27 data journalists, asking them about the data tools and languages they use, their common sources of data, the volume and format of their data, and the kinds of data tasks...

After ten fantastic interviews with data journalists about their work, one point is already clear – data literacy is an increasingly essential skill. Matt Keifer of the Chicago Reporter puts it succinctly: "Data is getting to be ubiquitous. … I think that ‘data journalism’ is an anachronism waiting to happen. Just call it journalism." Daniel Hertz, Senior Fellow at the City Observatory, looks at open data when exploring a new story: "It usually starts with a question and you realize that this is an answerable empirical question, and the numbers are publicly available,...

This summer, we've started a new research project. The goal? To find out more about data journalism, and what, if anything, might make journalism-related data projects easier. Our core question: are there any common data bottlenecks that data journalists encounter that Flex.io can help eliminate or reduce? Why data journalism? Flex.io is all about making data projects more efficient. Most of our previous experience has been working hand-in-hand with business and IT folks trying to get data projects done. Across the board, we've found that the hang-ups and inefficiencies with this work are far...

Data projects come in many shapes and sizes. From big data predictive analytics to small data spreadsheet projects, from building new open data applications to reconciling a couple of ERP tables in the accounting department. There's one feature all these projects have in common: they all take far too long. Efficiency matters – and for maximizing the value of data, it matters a lot.  The math on this is simple. The more rapidly an organization can perform data projects, the greater its capacity to leverage data resources, generate real value and gain competitive advantage. According to...

I had a chance to attend an excellent meetup of the Chicago City Data User Group last week, which focused on Chicago's contribution to the Code for America Summit: The Code for America Summit is THE annual convening for civic technology. This year’s summit (which took place in San Francisco in September) saw 800 government, tech, and civic engagement leaders from dozens of cities to talk about ways to make their cities work better. Civic-minded technologists, designers, community organizers, and entrepreneurs heard best practices, discussed emerging ideas, and showcased the latest tools...