With Sunlight Labs questioning the value of goverment-backed visualizations and the UK Department of Communities and Local Government surveying existing approaches to visualizing data in the public realm, the attention to how to make public data more accessible is in full swing.
The Google blog just announced that they will "add search to public data", a new and powerful search feature that makes it easy to find and compare public data, in the anticipation "... that this will pave the way for public data to take a more central role in informed public conversations". In practice, this means that when searching for public data related topics, search results will include a small preview and a link to an interactive chart that lets users add and remove data for different geographical areas.
The data Google is including in this first launch represents just a small fraction of all the interesting public data available on the web. There are statistics for prices of cookies, CO2 emissions, asthma frequency, high school graduation rates, bakers' salaries, number of wildfires, and so on.
Since Google acquired Gapminder/Trendalyzer 2 years ago, it was clear Google would have an interest in making visualizations of socially relevant data available. This initiative fits well in the comment discussion that followed the recent post about "Should data.gov Visualize? Probably Not.". Even when most of the commenters stress that indeed "all visualizations are editorial" (and so the government should not free resources or divert attention on creating them), it seems to come back to trusting the all-encompassing power of Google, from finding and ranking (almost any) information online, to visualizing it.
Try this feature out by yourself by querying for [unemployment rate] or [population] followed by a U.S. state or county, such as "unemployment rate New York or "population New York". (To be honest, the results do not yet pop up at the Australian Google site, nor the "google.com" site accessed from Australia. However, you can see it in action at the video below.)