The Grand Rapids Open Data catalog is a collaborative project between the City of Grand Rapids and Friendly Code, a Code for America Brigade.

Types of Data

Cool Data! But what are those formats? JSON? CSV? Shapefiles?

xls and xlsx are Microsoft’s spreadsheet format. Viewable by Microsoft Excel. The data is sorted in simple columns and rows.

csv or comma separated values is a text-based spreadsheet format. Columns are separated by commas and each row is on a new line. Viewable in any text editor and by Microsoft Excel.

JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) is a lightweight data-interchange format. It’s used primarily to transfer data between programming languages, but it can also be opened and viewed in a text document.

If you just want to browse the data, JSON can be hard to make sense of it in it’s raw form (it may download on just one line). But some basic text manipulation will make it easier to browse. Copy it into your favorite text editor and replace each comma with a comma and a newline.

File extension is .json but you may have to copy it as raw text.

KML (Keyhole Markup Language) is an XML notation for expressing geographic information within Internet-based maps. Viewable in Google Maps, Here Maps, geocommons ( or in any text editor. File extension is .kml but it may be distributed in .kmz (zipped) format.

HTML (HyperText Markup Language) is view-able in a standard web browser.

A shapefile is a geospatial data file that describes vector features: points, polygons, or lines. In other words, a shapefile contains data associated with location attributes. These data may represent things like fire hydrants, trees, water, lakes, or streets. The importance is that these data don't only include the location but also the information associated with that feature; how big the tree is and species, the name and size of the street, etc.

Shapefiles are a common industry standard in geospatial analysis. A shapefile is comprised of at least three individual files with extensions .shp, .prj, and .dbf additional extensions .sbn, and .shx are commonly included . A shapefile is accessed using geographic information system software products. QGIS ( is an open-source alternative. Shapefiles can also be uploaded and accessed via the web geographic information system package Geocommons ( Numerous additional proprietary and open-source options are available.

ZIP is a format that compresses other file types. Download the data, right click the file and click ‘Extract all’. This will extract the files to their actual file-type.