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Google Public Data Explorer [google.com] is yet the latest entry in the ongoing race to democratize data access and its representation for lay people. Similar to Many Eyes, Swivel, Tableau Public and many others, Google Public aims to make large datasets easy to explore, visualize and communicate. As a unique feature, the charts and maps are able to animate over time, so that any meaningful time-varying data changes become easier to understand. The goal is for students, journalists, policy makers and everyone else to play with the tool to create visualizations of public data, link to them, or embed them in their own webpages. Embedded charts are also updated automatically, so they always show the latest available data.

Google is not a particularly new player in this realm. After Google acquired Trendalyzer from the Gapminder foundation several years ago, a simple Chart API and more powerful Data Visualization API appeared that allowed for the generation of powerful, interactive information dashboards. More recently, Google added visualization graphs to search results. Other valuable visualization jewels in the now impressive Google treasure collection include: Google Insights for Search, Google Trends, Google Wonder Wheel, Google Flu Trends and Google Zeitgeist.

More detailed information is available on the official Google Blog. In the blog post, you will also find an interesting downloadable dataset of the 80 most popular data and statistics search topics, based on the aggregation of billions of queries people typed into Google search.

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Indeed, since people need visualisations to grasp things, while billions or trillions are just too intangible to impress anyone (or else everyone would fret about the threat of sovereign bankruptcy) these more and more pervasive tools will hopefully make a difference (although there's a danger too: choosing to compare incompatible data, not understanding logarithmics or in general how an axis is scaled may mislead many people - but first get the products online, then the blogosphere will eventually look after the public's education I believe). Google's tools are very similar to gapminder which is no wonder: Rosling's son did their software after which he was offered a job at Google. Thanks for pointing out StatPlot of which I wasn't yet aware; will add it to my Data Visualisation References list.

Fri 12 Mar 2010 at 3:33 AM
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