The social sciences are big producers and consumers of statistical data. Surveys, censuses and opinion polls are basic sources of information for most quantitative research in sociology and economics. These data are collected and preserved by specialised data archives, national statistical offices or private research institutes (e.g. Gallup poll) and traditionally disseminated to researchers (social researchers, journalists, marketing experts, etc.) as data files stored on some form of magnetic media and accompanied by bulky printed documentation (metadata). From the point of view of a researcher the current statistical data dissemination process is far from optimal. Given that there are many data publishers, each one with its own distinct access and dissemination procedures, it is often not easy to find and get hold of the right information. Also the artificial separation between statistical data and metadata complicates the assessment and processing of the information. In 1998 the European Union funded a research and development project named Networked Social Science Tools and Resources (NESSTAR). NESSTAR was funded by DGXIII of the European Commission under the 4th Framework Telematics Applications Program.
The aim of the project was to bring the advantages of the Web to the world of statistical data dissemination. At the time the WWW had already made the publishing of textual and graphical information easier and cheaper than ever. A huge amount of information had been made available worldwide at a press of a button, at virtually no cost and in a highly integrated way. The question that NESSTAR was called to answer was if it was possible to create a ”Data Web” that would make just as easy to publish, locate and access statistical data.
The NESSTAR project was followed by FASTER, another European project that has further developed the Data Web concept and implementation. NESSTAR and FASTER were sufficiently successful to convince two of their main contractors, the UK Data Archive based at Essex University in England and the Norwegian Social Science Data Services (NSD) in Norway, to spin off a company to exploit commercially the Data Web technology. In 2006 the company underwent retrenchment back into its parent organisations. Nesstar is still developing Data Web solutions for a number of international clients and is currently working on a multi-lingual version.