Staff at the University of Illinois are taking on a really interesting project to digitize and classify millions of news reports from the world over - dating back to 1946. They want to find news reports on events which "bear on societal infrastructures and welfare" so that analyses on social events can be carried out across time and countries. One might, for instance, want to look at how governments' statements alter near election time.
There will be huge potential here for development researchers too, as Dani Rodrik has pointed out. Hopefully it will be possible to see how conceptions of poverty and perceptions of donors have changed.
There is also a wider lesson for aid givers. The information and data which they hold on projects and programmes, past and present, is of vital importance. Releasing it whole-heartedly into the public domain will allow researchers to find hidden trends - in ways which are only becoming possible thanks to technology such as that being employed in Illinois.