Data Visualization for Everyone

There’s nothing like a clever visualization technique to breathe life into data that might otherwise be presented as a sleep inducing table or bar graph. Google Labs has just made experimenting with data visualization a lot easier with the release of the Google Public Data Explorer.

The Explorer features a number of large datasets including a chunk of the World Bank’s World Development Indications, a Centers for Disease control database on sexually transmitted diseases in the U.S., and an assortment of U.S. economic data, including annual gross domestic product and personal income from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The tool lets you display the information in fairly boring line graphs or bar charts. More interesting is an option that lets you superimpose regional data on a map where different sized circles let you compare, say, the incidence of syphilis in different states. Finally you can do a sort of four-dimensional chart plotting one variable on the horizontal axis, a second of the vertical, and a third reflected in the size of a circle representing the data point, and a fourth indicated by the color of the circle.

For the moment, you can really only play with the visualizations, which are presented in Flash. But Google says it is “investigating features that will enable users to download the data.”  It is also looking for additional data sets to include in the test.

3 Responses to “Data Visualization for Everyone”

  1. Sam Whitmore Says:

    Anything that gets folks thinking visually is good. That they also can discover the joys of data is even better. Long live the charticle!

  2. Ian Lamont Says:

    It’s interesting. Google has made a visualization API available for a few years now, but it requires some minor coding skills to use.

    What would really be cool is a robust data visualization engine that lets non-coders upload a file (say, an Excel spreadsheet) and then lets them use some sort of easy wizard to create different visualizations which can be easily embedded on a blog, news website, etc.

  3. Jeff Fishburn Says:

    There’s a wealth of resources out there. One data viz expert to call on is @caseorganic. She’s got a great data viz site that’s downright artistic http://www.flickr.com/photos/caseorganic/sets/72157609482767920/ and she has some great bookmarks http://delicious.com/caseorganic/data.

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