Starter Datasets are currently available in shapefile format. Cartographically styled data is available for ArcGIS and QGIS.
To begin using a dataset:
Download the .zip file to your computer and decompress.
Read the metadata. (xml file)
If using ArcGIS, open the dataset in your GIS by clicking the mxd filename. You should see nicely styled data. If you are using QGIS, some datasets may be styled for QGIS or some may not be.
If you do not open the .mxd or the .qgs file, you will see plain data with no cartographic styling.
There are several ways to use this data:
As a background. Loading data in the background of your own data is a simple way to use this data. For example, loading a population dataset behind your feature data can give an immediate visualization of population distribution.
For queries. These datasets can be used for queries as you would any other dataset. For example, placing a buffer around your features, you can calculate population estimates within your buffered areas by using the population layer.
For other GIS functions. These datasets can be used as you would use any other data. You can perform queries, data joins, calculations, and more.