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Monday, 8th March 2010

New from Google Labs: An Experimental Data Visualization Tool for Public Data

First, a few paragraphs of background.

You likely remember when Google began offering a few data of government data (population, unemployment, etc.) on certain results pages if the search query called for it. This feature began last April. The service remains available but we haven't heard of many other U.S. Government data sets being added aside from selected data from the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Census.

What we did learn was that a large amount of information (some of the 800 World Development Indicators from the World Bank) became available November, 2009.

Btw, this help page lists what data sets are available from U.S. Government sources and the World Bank.

Of course, while Google was doing this Wolfram Alpha was developing and providing some of the same and similar data in different ways.

For example, here's the query "Unemployment Rate California" and the result from Google and Wolfram Alpha.

With World Bank data is much the same. One example we found interesting was one hyperlinked directly from Google's help page: "the world's life expectancy." As you'll notice, at least at this time (things can change quickly at Google), no result with World Bank data is shown. Wolfram Alpha has an answer and a bunch of nuggets surrounding it.

So, that's the background.

Today, Google Labs is releasing an experimental data visualization service called Google Public Data Explorer.

Using query logs and other tools Google came up 80 most popular, "data and statistics search topics." They include:

+ School comparisons
+ Population
+ Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
+ Last names
+ Consumer price index, inflation
+ Accidents, traffic violations

The list users is based on one week of searches using only U.S. data. You can obtain a complete list of all 80 search topics in this PDF (10 pages).

The New Resource from Google Labs

Access the Public Data Explorer

What Does It Offer? (via Google Blog)

With the Data Explorer, you can mash up data using line graphs, bar graphs, maps and bubble charts. The visualizations are dynamic, so you can watch them move over time, change topics, highlight different entries and change the scale. Once you have a chart ready, you can easily share it with friends or even embed it on your own website or blog.

To make all of this even more useful as a quality reference resource, Google provides this page of data sets and their providers. As of today, they've added a few new ones.

We currently provide data from the same three providers currently available in our search feature: the World Bank, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau [these are the same three Google began with last April]. In addition, we've added five new data providers: the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), the California Department of Education, Eurostat, the U.S. Center for Disease Control, and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

ResourceShelf will be monitoring for new data providers. It took months (just about a year) for the U.S. Government data sources added today.

The charts, graphs, etc are "based" on Trendalyzer technology that Google obtained when they acquired the Gapminder Foundation.

What's missing?

Google Data Explorer in desperate need of a subject index for the OECD and World Bank data sets. Lots of great info in these docs but trying to get to without having it organized by subject, location, etc. is a challenge and it's likely many would just say forget it.

The learning curve is very small. We were outputting charts in a matter of minutes. Again, the challenge will be to actually find the correct data set. It's not a problem now (except for OECD and World Bank) but if more sets (including a number of sets that come in one compilaion are added getting to them in a timely manner could be difficult.

So, another cool resource from Google. That said, Steven Wolfram is a very smart person and we wouldn't be at all surprised if we see new interactive features coming from Wolfram Alpha very soon. It would also be interesting (and a challenge) to build a comprehensive list of what data sets Google and Wolfram Alpha offer users.

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